Once upon a time Little League baseball was just that - little.

Then it all changed when two worlds collided.

When the coverage of the Little League World Series moved from ABC, which started out airing only the championship game on tape delay in the 1960s, to the World Wide Leader (ESPN) the spotlight was cranked all the way up.

Today as many as 35 games each year are aired live each summer, making 12-year-old American boys television stars for a couple of weeks.

For better or worse.

It is the contention of some, including Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post in a 2005 column, that the television cameras zooming in and out can be too much for kids and a little exploitative.

Jenkins wrote: "The founding idea of Little League is a good one: It gives kids of all abilities and sizes a chance to participate equally and to learn the correct fundamentals, which delivers a lot of joy. But the World Series has become a distorting influence, infecting kids and parents alike with major league fantasies that lead to emotional and physical stresses."

Jenkins isn't the only one to have that line of thinking but the majority of those who do were probably never part of the hysteria. They are watching from afar, seeing kids cry after emotional defeats and listening to coaches, courtesy of dugout microphones, get vocal with their players after a bad inning.

They think it is too much too early for such theatrics and if the wrong moment is captured on TV it could weigh heavy on a young psyche and lead to problems down the line.

Fortunately, there is a small sample right here in the East Valley to pull from as the Little League All-Star tournaments crank up this week.

Since 2003, three teams from the area have been fortunate enough to win their district tournament, followed by the state tournament and the West Regional in San Bernardino, Calif., to qualify for the big event in Williamsport, Pa.

By all accounts the experience was nothing but a treasured memory. There were plenty of close calls, disappointing losses and tears shed. Some were caught on tape and others were more private, but it didn't change their course in life.

"I wouldn't change a thing," said Mountain Pointe senior-to-be Scott Kingery, who was a main cog in the Pride's state title winning team this year. "When we got to the Little League World Series it was a little intimidating and you knew everything you did could get caught on camera, but during the games none of that mattered.

"I saw the (2003) Chandler (National) team make it, saw them on TV and wanted to be part of it. The fact that we did (three years later) was amazing."

The Ahwatukee Dawgs, including Kingery, are now all grown up with the players either having just graduated or heading into their senior year at the two local high schools.

Desert Vista graduates Ryan Modi and Shaun Chase had quality careers with Chase moving on to the University of Arizona.

"That experience (with the Dawgs) set my career off in the right direction," Chase said recently. "It was a huge deal and it sparked my career."

When looking at the rosters of the other two teams from the East Valley - 2003 and 2007 Chandler National squads - the same sentiment can be applied.

It's a little early to see how the 2007 individuals are doing, most of them are heading into their junior year of high school, but it is clear the 2003 squad kept on playing at a high level.

Six of the players, led by Justin Rosales, Cory Bernard and Tyler Kem, helped Hamilton finish as state champions as juniors and state runners-up as seniors.

Others went on to be contributors at Chandler, Basha, Queen Creek and Mesa Skyline, but it was the contingent at Hamilton that had the most success.

Hamilton coach Mike Woods has had a unique position to see how the Little League experience affected the players as they got older.

Not only did he coach, or currently does, a good majority of the Chandler National players from both squads, but his own son, Connor, played for the 2007 team.

"They come in with a confidence level, a bit of a swagger, because they know how to be successful," Woods said. "They experienced winning at an early age while playing on a big stage and it gave us an edge when we played in big games."

Woods doesn't understand the sentiment that it is too much, too early for a 12-year-old to receive such scrutiny and exposure.

"The kids are fine," he said. "It is the parents that get caught up in it most of the time. I kind of tried to step back and let it happen, but not everyone takes that approach. It is probably why they show the parents (during the broadcast) so much.

"It ends up becoming this huge event that can be overwhelming, but at the root of it is the fact that kids are playing baseball and there is nothing bad about that."

So it begins again at 6 p.m. on Wednesday with Opening Ceremonies for the District 13 tournament at the Tempe Sports Complex. The chances of a local team advancing all the way to Williamsport are slim, but there are three prime examples in recent years that show it can be done.

Regardless of what happens, enjoy.

"I'd tell this year's team to work your hardest and have fun," Kingery said. "Even if they don't go far this can really set the tone for what type of player you become."

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

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