ESCANABA - The population of the city of Escanaba is about to significantly increase over the next two weeks as Lemerand Park is set to host the Senior (age 15-16) and Minor (age 9-10) Little League state tournaments.
The opportunity to host two state tournaments is a unique one and site director Ernie Burch and tournament director Don Howes, along with president Bob Lehouillier Jr. and the Escanaba Little League board have put in countless hours of work in preparation.
The five-team Senior League tournament is set to begin Saturday and runs through Monday. The following week, Escanaba will host the 16-team Minor League tournament beginning on Friday, July 26 and running through July 31.
Justin Marietti |?Daily Press
From left to right, the Escanaba Minor, Major, Junior, and Senior Little League teams pose in front of their district 10 championship banners, Thursday, at Lemerand Field in Escanaba. This year is the first time ever that Escanaba has won district titles across all four softball divisions.
"The greater Escanaba area is preparing itself for a big impact to the economy over the next couple weeks, especially the last week of July," said Howes. "We are holding the state's biggest Little League tournament with 16 teams of 9 and 10 year olds coming to Escanaba. Little League International predicts a boost of $500-700,000 in the area with most players staying here for just about a week."
Escanaba was awarded the Minor League tournament at an administrator meeting prior to the season. Kalamazoo was originally slated to host the tournament until one administrator spoke up and mentioned that Kalamazoo hosted the tournament three years ago and mentioned District 10 and Escanaba as a potential location, according to Howes.
"We got the full support of the state administrators and thanks to the many volunteers in Escanaba and Gladstone, we can handle the tournaments, especially with a guy like Ernie Burch running it. Ernie and senior umpire John Ziemba have been working their tails off," said Howes. "It takes a lot of pressure off of me. I'm the tournament director, but you have to have good people under you."
The Minor League tournament was originally going to be a 15-team tournament, but after a vote of all 15 districts, a second team from Escanaba's district was allowed in to make it an even 16. That team was Kingsford, which eliminated Gladstone Wednesday evening.
The Senior League tournament is smaller in scope. Originally scheduled to be a six team tournament, it has now been reduced to five teams. District nine was forced to withdraw under tragic circumstances when its manager passed away due to a heart attack this week.
Pool play will now consist of each team playing four games. The top two teams after pool play, will play for the championship on Monday at 11:30 a.m. The winner will go on to South Bend, Ind. for the Central Regional.
In the Minor League tournament, pool play will consist of three games for each team. Eight teams will advance to the state quarterfinal. The Minor tournament will end at the state level, which will crown a champion on July 31.
Burch mentioned that some of the teams coming from downstate have never crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, and stressed the importance of making a good first impression for the area.
"This is going to bring a lot of revenue and a lot of traffic into the local Escanaba and Gladstone area," he said. "We've reserved a lot of motel rooms, upwards of 200 rooms. It should be a busy time for local merchants and restaurants, and a positive impact on the community. This is big. Esky150 big.
"What a great way to show off our local parks and allow Escanaba Little League and Lemerand Park to shine," Burch added. "We have a crew of very dedicated parents that have put countless hours in preparing for these multiple tournaments."
The effort has been tremendous and even includes some sprucing up of Lemerand Park. A new scoreboard was added to the field in May thanks to local businessmen and women Burch, Scott Peterson of Classic Auto Collision, Scott Fritz - owner of Classic Auto, Jim McNeil of McNeil Landscaping, Brenda Lippens of Delta County Credit Union and Rick Prica of NK Electric.
"We're very excited," Burch said. "A tremendous amount of work has gone into planning and preparing so that we can have a successful tournament."
This weekend, the Escanaba Senior League All-Stars are scheduled to play at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday and 9 a.m. on Monday.