Montgomery County Angels take flight to Dixie World Series
Dreaming of exploring far-off lands is a common summertime occurrence for many elementary school-aged children.
For the Montgomery County Angels All-Star softball team, however, venturing into uncharted territory has become a reality.
On Sunday, the group, consisting of 9- and 10-year-old players, defeated Halifax 11-5 and became the first team in Montgomery County Parks and Recreation history to win a Dixie state title, as well as the first Montgomery County team in any sport to advance to a Dixie World Series.
The team, made up of Eastern Montgomery and Auburn players, will travel to Alabama on Thursday, where they will represent Virginia in the Dixie Angels X-play World Series, an honor team manager Lonnie Raines said was fitting of his special group of players.
“They’re 12 girls with one goal in mind, and that’s to win. You can even see it when they practice,” Raines said.
That focus caught the attention of Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Athletic Supervisor Chris Slusher.
“I’ve never seen a group so dedicated at this age. They do everything together,” Slusher said.
While Slusher pointed out the group’s dedication to the sport, it may be the group’s dedication to Slusher and his family that’s more impressive.
On March 22, Slusher’s wife, Tiffany, gave birth to their daughter, Haddie, eight weeks premature. It was soon discovered that Haddie had a heart defect, and following weeks of medical attention, she died April 6.
Slusher said he returned to work just in time for the start of the All-Star softball season and was unaware how well-known his family’s situation had become until just prior to the team’s district tournament, when Raines asked if it would be OK for the team’s jersey to include a ribbon and Haddie’s initials, “HLS.”
“I was just floored when they came to me,” Slusher said. “It’s such a great honor.”
Slusher said it was awesome to see the girls’ recent success, and the experience had been very therapeutic for him.
Raines said the players had dedicated the season to the Slusher family and that they wanted people to know where they were drawing their motivation from.
“We dedicated it to him because his wife had a baby and it passed away,” said Skyler DeHart, a Montgomery County player. “It was a baby girl, and he was always talking to our coach about how she would be a softball player.”
The team’s play in the final game of the state tournament showed how much that dedication really motivated them.
Trailing Halifax in the third inning 3-1, Raines said he gave his team a reminder of their purpose.
“I told them, ‘We have an angel in heaven looking down on us, and she wasn’t going to let us lose if we keep our heads up,’ ” Raines said.
The team rallied for five runs in their next at-bat and never trailed again in their state championship victory.
With a district and state title under their belts, the team will now head south and face the Georgia representative in their first game July 28. But they still have some work left to do off the field to make the trip financially possible.
Many of the team’s players and parents have begun reaching out to friends, family and businesses in hopes of raising enough money to provide transportation and lodging — which could be for up to seven days— for the 12 players, along with three family members for each player.
Raines’ daughter, team member Courtney Raines, wasted no time with her personal fundraising campaign and hit the streets Sunday evening as soon as they returned from the state tournament.
“I went to my neighbors and asked if they would help out,” Courtney said. “They liked the idea. They said it’s great what we’re doing for the community.”
Though Courtney’s efforts that evening resulted in $600, Raines said the group is still far from its goal. He added that the group would like to be able to charter a bus and travel together, which alone would cost about $5,000.
Financial issues aside, the team and the many people associated said they know this will be a very special experience and a fitting honor for the group.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of group,” Slusher said. “To tell you the truth, it’s meant more to me than I’ll ever be able to thank them for.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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