Little League Baseball and Softball have decided to shut down the World Series for all but two divisions for 2021, Little League headquarters announced and local Senior League Softball World Series Director Martin Donovan confirmed this week.
In part, the statement released by Little League read, “The Little League Baseball and Softball World Series events will be held, as scheduled, this August in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and Greenville, North Carolina (respectively), featuring teams solely from the United States. Based on the recommendation of the 2021 Little League International Pandemic Response Advisory Commission, the Little League International Board of Directors approved a plan that incorporates a series of COVID-19 mitigation measures to host these tournaments in a healthy, responsible environment.”
The two tournaments still being held are the ones that feature the 12U division of both baseball and softball. Teams will be able to win their state tournament, then proceed to the national regional, and onto the World Series if they are fortunate enough to win at that level.
There will be no World Series for the Little League Intermediate (50/70) Baseball, Junior Baseball, Junior Softball, Senior Baseball or Senior Softball divisions. All of those tournaments will conclude at the state level this season.
Lower Sussex Little League had hosted the Senior League Softball World Series in Roxana for more than 15 years, through 2019. But, due to the pandemic, that did not happen in 2020, nor will it in 2021.
“It’s very disappointing, for sure,” Donovan said. “We were fully prepared to host for this year. We had all the hotels locked in. We had the buses and caterers all squared away. I was fairly certain we were going to have the tournament this year. As I sit here today, I am 100 percent certain that we will be back next year.”
Donovan said that it was certainly a difficult decision that had to be made now, versus in a month or two, because the contracts had to be signed with the other businesses involved in hosting a World Series tournament.
“People don’t realize that there is so much more involved than just playing the games,” he added. “If we were just going to play games, it would be fine. However, we have the COVID guidelines to follow. The bus company had their guidelines. The caterer had their guidelines. We had to figure out in years past we’d have four girls to a room, but this year it was going to have to be two. So there were so many other factors that we were trying to continue to work through.”
The decision to not have international teams involved this year came down to a number of contributing factors, Little League International President and CEO Steve Keener said. Among those factors was the uncertainty of international locations being able to host regional tournaments this year, as well as the inability to secure travel visas for the international teams that qualified.
Keener added, “With regard to international participation, after carefully monitoring international travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, testing and vaccine availability, along with updates from Little League officials from many countries within our program advising us on feasibility of tournaments in our international regions, the commission recommended that the Little League Baseball and Softball World Series feature teams only from the United States. Where appropriate, international teams may continue to play based upon their country’s guidelines and restrictions.”
It will be the first time no international teams will participate at the Little League Baseball World Series since 1975. That year, Little League had banned all non-U.S. teams due to the allegations of the Chinese Taiwan team using out-of-district players. International players have been playing in the World Series since 1952, when a team from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, made their debut. International teams were reinstated in 1976 and have been involved in the international showcase ever since.
According to Little League officials, for the play that will still be happening, all players and coaches will undergo COVID-19 testing prior to and again upon arriving at tournament locations. Players and coaches will also have limited contact with outside personnel until negative tests are confirmed.
The 16 teams for the Little League Baseball World Series will be determined through the eight U.S. regionals for baseball and the five regionals in softball. The two teams that reach the regional championship game will both qualify for this year’s lone World Series. What exactly the tournament will look like has not yet been determined.
The Little League Softball World Series will feature 10 teams, with the top two teams from each of its five U.S. region tournaments advancing. There will be no North Carolina Region team as the host team at the Little League Softball World Series in 2021. Traditionally, the team representing the host region for the series automatically advances to the World Series. Local teams have qualified for the Senior League Softball World Series on both that basis and through the regional tournaments.
It is likely that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, fans will likely not be allowed into the complexes to watch the games that do take place, unlike in years past. Parents and family members of the players and coaches will likely be the only ones in attendance, with a select few from the areas of the qualifying teams as well. A decision on all of this, though, will come at a later date.
Little League’s regional sites for its Major League baseball and softball tournaments are at Little League-owned sites. The other regional sites are all operated at volunteer host sites. Putting together a COVID mitigation plan, such as the ones in Williamsport and Greenville, would be very difficult to operate with volunteers at those sites, league officials concluded. Prior to the official announcement from Little League, there was a Zoom meeting held with 45 or 50 representatives of the other regional tournaments and World Series for the teenage divisions to explain the decision to not hold those tournaments. Donovan was on that call.
Dan Lueders, the chair for Little League International Pandemic Response Advisory Commission and a UPMC sports-medicine physician, explained to those representing the other regional sites the commission’s process of evaluating all the scenarios and why it wouldn’t be fair to ask them to host under those circumstances, Keener said.
“The best way to characterize it is, while they were disappointed, they understood,” Keener said.
Donovan echoed Keener’s sentiments.
“Like I said before — very disappointing, because I would have never imagined that we would have been canceled two years in a row,” Donovan concluded. “It’s very unfortunate for everybody. But we’ll be back. No doubt about it. We’ll be back next year.”
Little League is still planning to expand the World Series in Williamsport to 20 teams in 2022. Meanwhile, the Little League Softball World Series will expand to 12 teams next year. It will also be a celebration for the 75th anniversary of Little League Baseball next year.