Fairborn Little League thriving in return from pandemic

Three teams from organization advanced to state tournament

Little League Baseball feels the pinch on its programs around the country by the growth of summer travel and select teams. Fewer kids are playing in their hometown leagues, but the Fairborn Little League is thriving.

For the first time, three of Fairborn’s all-star teams won district tournaments to advance to state. The 13-15-year-old Senior team played at state two weekends ago and finished third. This weekend the 10U and 11U teams get their shot at state. Fairborn’s only state titles came once in the 1960s and 2001.

“Following the year after COVID, it’s pretty big to have the things happen that we’re having happen,” said Darrell Gilliam, the league president.

Gilliam is hopeful this year’s 10U and 11U teams are building a foundation for future 12U teams that could have the opportunity to advance from state to regionals to the well-known Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. State is as far as tournament play goes for 10U and 11U.

The 10U team, coached by Michael Vanover, plays in Boardman near Youngstown, and the 11U team, coached by Chris Moon, plays in Symmes Valley in Southeast Ohio. The tournaments are double elimination and last five days for the teams that reach the final round.

“It’s exciting seeing the community support the teams and the kids and watching the kids get really excited about being successful,” said board member Thad Cook, whose son plays for the 10U team.

Fairborn has the longest running affiliation in Ohio with Little League Baseball. But like all youth baseball, the fields in Fairborn sat empty last summer. This summer, however, the fields buzzed with the activity of 320 ballplayers from T-ball to Seniors. Volunteers worked to get the fields back in shape and made improvements.

“It was really successful and great to see everybody back out at the fields and the kids having fun,” Cook said.

The 10U and 11U teams hosted the district tournaments, helping grow community excitement for the teams. To cover lodging and travel costs, the league has raised $6,000 through a car wash and an online GoFundMe campaign. The car wash this past Monday raised $3,500 in four hours.

Gilliam, in his first year as board president, said the league has remained strong during his seven years on the board because of strong community support through financial donations and team sponsors. But the hours of volunteer work and coaching are vital.

“It’s pretty much having good board members that want to volunteer and work 40 hours a week then still be willing to work 40-50 hours a week at the ballpark,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam expects this year’s success to increase the number of players next year. He said he’s heard from several parents who weren’t happy with travel-team experiences.

“As you win districts, we are hearing a lot from the people in town who went that way of travel ball say if they knew the program was going in this direction then our kids would’ve come there and played,” Gilliam said. “So it’s something good to build on.”

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