One of the great pleasures that comes to our area from the Little League World Series is the enthusiasm that is expressed by the small towns whose teams that are representing their region. The fans are easily spotted clumped together on Fourth Street in Williamsport at the Grand Slam Parade. They all have matching t-shirts representing their region, and the parents of the players are the ones whose smiles stretch from one side of the street to the other.
Talking with them is always such a pleasure; always telling amazing stories about what it took for the team to get to Williamsport. And almost always, there is a story about how the team had a way of energizing and inspiring the community they came from.
When a hometown team wins a championship, especially when it is a small town that rarely experiences such events, it is bigger than a big deal. It is a historical event. This is what happened on Thursday, June 16th, when the Lady Raiders of Montgomery Area High School won the Pennsylvania Class A Women’s Softball Championship game over Dubois Catholic, 5-1.
Jim Webb gave a wonderful review of the team in last week’s issue, but the story beyond that is what this meant to the Montgomery area itself. The Montgomery Area School District includes Montgomery borough and the neighboring Clinton, Brady, and Washington townships. For decades this region has seen its population shrink, which is reflected in school enrollment. Competing in sports with other schools that are comparable in school size is a tremendous challenge and generally means traveling considerable distances. Just winning regular-season games are a reason for celebration.
Montgomery Area High School dates back to 1905, and in all those years, there has never been a team that has won a state championship — until Thursday, June 16th. The response from the community was amazing to behold. Not so many actually went to the game at State College, but thanks to Facebook, the entire town seemed to know of the victory almost as soon as it happened.
When the team returned, a parade was organized that seemed like a flash mob. The assembly point was the Montgomery Area Athletic and Community Center (MAC), a site about a mile from the school where the football and athletic fields are located. The players and coaches climbed on fire trucks from the Montgomery Fire Company, and trucks from Clinton and Washington Township were well represented as well. The trucks moved from the MAC very slowly through the town and eventually hooked up with the Montgomery Area High School Band at the American Legion building on Broad Street to add a little more flair to the celebrations.
Despite the last-minute organization and threatening weather, it seemed that every member of the community wanted to express their joy with the achievement of the Lady Raiders. The radiant smiles of the players must have pushed the clouds away because the weather seemed to improve the longer the parade lasted.
The residents of the Montgomery area have not stopped smiling either because to be the best at anything is extremely rare, especially for such a small population community. There have been a number of exceptional athletes through the decades, and these certainly deserve the honor they receive. Yet, a championship team is something else. It takes great coaches, committed parents and guardians, as well as hard, hard work and commitment by the athletes themselves. By every account, this group was as cohesive a band of players as the school has ever seen. They were the very definition of “team.”
Fifty years from now, when these women get together for a reunion and reminisce about their success back in 2022, there may be other teams that reach the pinnacle of success and become state champions, but they have the distinction of being the first. They made history for a community that has waited over a century for it to happen. Yes, they are Raiders, but they are also LIONS — Leaders in Our Neighborhood.