LUTZ — In this small suburban town lies Oscar Cooler Park, which recently played host to the state's eight best teams of 11- and 12-year-old baseball players battling to represent Florida in the Southeast Regional tournament in Georgia, and possibly the prestigious Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The four-day boys state tournament late last month was won by Martin County North, which defeated Sarasota American, 7-1, in the championship game.
For scores of officials, coaches, parents and other volunteers affiliated with Lutz Little League, and the district to which it belongs, the tournament marked the culmination of months of planning and hard work.
"The state tournaments are rotated throughout all the districts and sections in the state of Florida," said Susan Carrigan, administrator of Florida Little League District 25, which was assigned to host the tournament this year.
Once a host is chosen, Little League International informs the host of the dates that the various rounds will be played, working their way back from the Little League World Series scheduled for Aug. 15-25 to the local district all-star tournaments in late June and early July.
As the state tournament hosts, Lutz was responsible for almost all of the equipment and resources needed to run the event. That included baseballs, food for umpires and staff, preparation and maintenance of the fields and rooms for the staff to manage their paperwork.
The hosts were also responsible for finding volunteers. Every person involved in the process, from administrators to umpires, was an unpaid volunteer.
"It always amazes me how well things come together considering that we are all volunteers," said Andy Sass, vice president of Greater Dunedin Little League, which was among the eight teams that competed in the state tournament. Sass, who has been with the organization for seven years, made his first appearance as a manager in the state finals.
On the Sunday before the state tournament, packets were handed out to the eight sectional winners, which contained information about hotels, restaurants and things to do in the area. Although some teams, such as Dunedin and Plant City, had the luxury of having what may have felt like a home game, other teams traveled great distances to play in this tournament. Teams came from as far south as Coral Springs, as far east as Martin County and as far north as Leon County.
While volunteers worked to get the site ready, coaches and players from the participating teams worked diligently to prepare for the competition. Each group of all-stars had won their district and sectional titles over the past month to advance to the state tournament.
"The biggest challenge we faced was trying to get all of the kids and coaches working on the same page and playing to the best of their ability," Sass said. "As a team we kept things pretty loose and let the kids have fun.
"I tried to keep giving the kids a little philosophy or history of the game every time we met. I felt that it gave them a good perspective of what we were trying to accomplish, as well as an appreciation of the game and who we are as a community."
As for the kids, many said they enjoyed their time at the state tournament, testing their arms at the pitching booth or trying the much-desired funnel cake fries at the concessions.
But when it was time to get down to business, the players easily dialed in.
"Being at states," said Raymond Sass, a Dunedin all-star, "my teammates and I were all kind of nervous, so we were a little shaky early on in the games, but as soon as we started playing everything calmed down."
Dunedin finished 1-2 in pool play and did not advance to the semifinals.
But the boys realized how rare the opportunity was to compete at states. So they made the most of it.
"I couldn't believe that we had gotten this far," said Konner Stine, a catcher with Dunedin. "I realized everyone was proud of us no matter if we won or lost."