By Kaylee Lindenmuth
ASHLAND - With a parade and opening ceremonies, Ashland kicked off their Little League season and recognized the achievements of players young and old, and also celebrated field improvements Saturday afternoon.
Wintry mix weather on Friday gave way for sun and 60° temperatures Saturday for opening day ceremonies.
Beginning at 11:30am, players from all Ashland teams paraded from the bottom of the hill at the Ashland Food Mart up Centre Street to Eureka Park and the Little League complex.
The parade was led by Schuylkill County Sheriff Joseph Groody, and both Ashland fire companies participated as well.
The Little Leaguers made their way onto the field and lined the foul lines as opening ceremonies began.
An Ashland Little League official pointed out field improvements, crediting a Greenways, Trails, and Recreation grant through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.
"This grand allows for significant field enhancements, providing a positive experience for our children," he said.
State Senator David G. Argall (R-29), Schuylkill County Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier, State Representative Neal Goodman, Ashland Borough Council, and Borough Manager Ray Jones were all recognized for their efforts in obtaining the grant.
"I will never forget when Commissioner Staudenmeier called and said, 'Now Dave, Ashland doesn't ask for a lot, but there's this field that needs some help, can you come through with this grant?'" said Argall. "It took a lot of work, but I am so glad to be here today to see this thing become a reality."
Little Leaguers who made All-Stars in 2018, as well as the Ashland Little League champion Pirates and players entering their final year were all recognized during the ceremonies.
Additionally, a pair of teams who won back-to-back District 24 titles two decades ago were recognized as well.
"One time, 21 years ago, these guys stood here on Opening Day as 11 and 12 year olds like all of you guys," said 1998 coach John Karavage to the Little Leaguers in attendance as he introduced his team.
Karavage pointed out to the kids how much the ex-players had grown, "except for one of us, that would be me," he said, removing his jacket to reveal a 1998 District 24 Championship T-Shirt.
"I want to leave you with one thing. This is for all you players, parents, fans, anybody involved with Little League Baseball," said Karavage. "When we unseated Railway and went all the way to become the state champions -- and nobody thought that the '98 team could do that -- something that coach [Rick] Edwards always said after every practice, multiple times, 'Go out and make some memories. Make some great and good memories that your families, players, community, everybody will remember even when you guys are in your 30's."
Staudenmeier then spoke on behalf of the 1999 team he coached, relaying the story of their championship and the path that took them to the title.
"All of Schuylkill County was rooting for us," Staudenmeier said.
The team fell prior to the state championship game, however.
"After four or five weeks, we knew it was over, that was it, that was the end of their Little League career," said Staudenmeier. "I can still remember what myself, Joe, and Ed did after the game. We got all the kids out in the outfield, sat them down, and told them how proud we were of them, but we also told them these memories are going to last a lifetime, and here we are, 20 years later."
Staudenmeier added, "When you do this [Little League], make sure you have fun doing it. Congratulations, and have a great year."
Lauren Bennyhoff sang the national anthem, and the 2019 Little League graduates joined together for the Little League pledge.
The day's slate of games began with the Dodgers and the Pirates.
The game remained close up until the 5th inning, entering the 5th with a 2-1 score in the Dodgers favor.
A strong 5th and 6th inning gave the Dodgers a 5-1 victory to open the Ashland Little League season.
The next two games featured the Phillies vs Athletics, and the Yankees vs. Orioles.
A full photo gallery and video will be posted soon.
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