GARY — Mayor Jerome A. Prince ordered a loud and joyful send-off Wednesday for two Region Senior Little League teams headed to state championship tournaments this week. This is likely the first time the city has sent a girls’ softball team and a Little League baseball team to state finals at the same time, the mayor said.
“This is historic, and it’s exciting to have teams of young men and young women representing Gary and Northwest Indiana,” Prince said, citing a sendoff with a police, fire and general services escort “making lots of noise and getting fans excited.”
“This feels pretty good,” said Kyle Ezell, a shortstop-outfielder for the boys’ team. “I don’t think any of us thought we were going to state. It should be fun.”
Teammate David Collins, who plays several positions, added, “It feels good, especially doing it for the community.”
“It feels really great,” added Caitlyn Walker, an infielder for the girls’ squad. “We’re getting a lot of support from the community, and it feels great to have their backing.”
Walker’s father, Gary Health Commissioner Dr. Roland Walker, is a coach for both teams. “This is how I spend my spring and summer,” he said, adding that both teams “showed a lot of heart and didn’t give up.”
The Calumet Region Senior Little League All-Stars baseball team will play its first game today in Greenwood, while the Calumet Region Senior Little League All-Stars girls softball team will play in Middlebury later this week. Both teams are called the Angels and both play in 14-16 age divisions.
The tournament eventually goes into single-elimination bracket play. Winners advance to the Central Regionals with the champion going to the Senior Little League World Series.
The send-off began in the parking lot of the Gary SouthShore RailCats, then headed west on 4th Avenue before turning south on Broadway, near City Hall. The escort continued to I-80/94.
The baseball team left immediately after the escort. The softball team will leave the Region later in the week.
“This is great for the kids and the city,” said boys’ coach Earmon Hill. “These kids have known each other since tee-ball, about 10 years. They work hard and they’re good kids.”
Among family backers were three women with ties to both squads: Melanie Hoover, Jackie Hoover and Shawn Hoover-Davis. Melanie is mom and Jackie is grandmother to Arerion Hoover from the boys and Kamery Hoover from the girls, while Hoover-Davis is the players’ aunt.
“I’m just excited to be part of history in the city,” Melanie said. “It’s definitely been worth all the practices and late games.”
“It feels wonderful,” said Jackie, whose late husband, John Hoover, coached basketball at Lew Wallace. “It’s great to see my grandson go down with the team. I hope they exercise their camaraderie.”
“It’s awesome, being part of history,” Hoover-Davis said. “These players are positive Black males who can be role models for future players.”
A first baseman, Kamery Hoover said, “It feels good to be recognized. This team is special because everybody gets along.”
Prince, who used social media to challenge residents to financially support the teams, said residents responded to the challenge in a few days.
“I’m happy for them," said Councilwoman Mary Brown, D-3rd. "It fares well for the city.”
This was the first year for the Angels girls’ team and the first time some players ever picked up a glove. It was also the first-time head coach Kevin Bradley ever coached girls’ softball.
“I fell in love with the game in a minute,” Bradley said. “These girls just gelled so well.”
Centerfielder Zoe’ Scott, one of those newbies to softball, noted, “They made it very easy and understandable.”
“It’s exciting to see them represent the city so well and show the community in a positive light," said Quiana Scott, Zoe's mother. "They worked hard. They deserve to be recognized.”