by Clark Groome
At a time when the conflicts in the Middle East, the crisis at our southern border, the destructive weather all over the country, and the tragic death of one of our most beloved and admired performers dominate the news, we needed something positive to root for.
Enter the Taney Dragons.
For those of you living in a cave, they’re the diverse and talented baseball team playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., the first Philadelphia team ever to do that.
The team is made up of 12 kids from all over the city. Its most acclaimed player is Mo’ne Davis, a pitcher who not only has a 70-mile-per-hour fastball but a confidence that is refreshingly without ego and a talent that is off the charts. She’s also one of the 18 girls ever to make it to the World Series.
Mo’ne has captured the country’s imagination. She’s not only a star in her sport but a media darling as well.
Her success and her popularity don’t surprise Priscilla Sands, president of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, where Mo’ne and teammates Scott Bandura and Jahli Hendricks go to school.
Sands said that these students “are so nice.”
“They’re three of the nicest kids,” Sands said. “I believe that to be the ethos of the team.”
While you might think that the boys on the team would be envious or resentful of the attention Mo’ne has gotten, Sands said that they aren’t.
“They’re so proud of Mo’ne,” Sands said. “The boys don’t begrudge her the spotlight. They know what’s she doing is extraordinary. They have a confidence, a passion for the sport, but also humility. They always speak about the team. It’s always the team.”
The boys, one said, view her as “just one of the guys.”
Sands take on the kids is borne out by what they have said when interviewed by the myriad media folk in Williamsport. Typical of their comments is what center fielder Tai Shanahan said when asked about the excitement of being in the World Series and about the attention that his team is getting.
“We have to keep our heads in the game,” Shanahan said. “We have to forget about all the fans watching back home and just play our game.”
Their game is superb. In the last regional game Aug. 10 they shutout Delaware 8-0 and ended it on as professional a double play as you’d ever want to see. Utley to Rollins to Howard, Joost to Suder to Fain and Tinker to Evers to Chance have nothing on this group.
The entire city has helped them raise the money needed to pay the significant expenses faced throughout the tournament. When it was clear that the team was going to Williamsport, the Phillies, who run a daily 50/50 raffle that gives half of the pot to the winner and the other half to a local charity, designated the Dragons the charity of one of their games against the Mets. That totaled $6,727.50.
SCH also contributed $6,500 to Taney. Some of it came from Sands’ discretionary fund, and a chunk of it came from individual contributions by members of the school’s administrative team.
Now that the Dragons are in Williamsport, attention to them has picked up. The team had more than 400 media requests for interviews or access. Most of them were turned down as the first game in the series neared.
Davis has already appeared on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” to name but two. Her team’s story has also been given wide coverage locally and nationally on all the major news and sports networks and in media as impressive as The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.
Because Taney’s story transcends wins and losses and because it is more about what is best in sport, I’m writing this before Mid-Atlantic champion Taney takes on Southeast champion South Nashville Friday afternoon.
The Taney Dragons fill a void (and I’m not just talking about the Phillies lousy season). It gives us all something to root for, to care about and to admire. It’s such a pure story it reminds us what sport should always be about but far too often isn’t.
It has been great fun getting to know the Taney Dragons. Regardless of the outcome from here on out, they are a special group of kids who have done a great deal more than just win baseball games.
Taney beat South Nashville 4-0 on Friday. They beat Pearland, Texas, 7-6 on Sunday. They’ll next play Las Vegas at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN).