EASLEY—Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell participated in a class with other South Carolina municipal leaders in Hilton Head. At the meeting, each person was asked to introduce himself.
“When it was my turn, I told them ‘my name is Larry Bagwell and I am Mayor of a small city that is beamed all over the world every year,’” he said.
Bagwell was referring to the Big League World Series which opens its 12th year at the JB “Red” Owens Recreational Complex next week. The series will feature 11 teams of 16-18-year-olds from across the United States and throughout the world. The championship game will be broadcast live on ESPN August 1.
With about 250 volunteers and an estimated $300,000 boost to the local economy from Clemson to Greenville, Bagwell says the tournament has been an integral part of the city for more than a decade.
“The Big League World Series has blossomed tremendously,” he said. “The city does put some money into it, but it is money well spent.”
Jon Humphrey, who has served as the tournament director for the past six years, said the preparation for the tournament is almost a year-round task.
“I call this my non-profit job,” Humphrey said. “We are all volunteers and we are fortunate that the community rallies around the tournament. When we finish the last award and clean up the following day, we give ourselves a week to decompress. Then, we begin looking at what we can do better next year. It is pretty much a year-round event at some level.”
The tournament committee is responsible for ordering uniforms, souvenir sale items and other products as well as putting together the logistics of the tournament and enlisting volunteers, working with facilities, housing and sponsors in addition to other needs. Each player in the series gets to keep his uniform and each participating team will receive a set of new catcher’s equipment.
Humphrey said this year the series will have a group of Presenting Sponsors, the highest level of sponsorship. The City of Easley, Dosher Physical Therapy, Kelly’s Family Pharmacy and Ogletree Deakins Law have teamed up to be the Presenting Sponsors, something Humphrey said is unusual.
“It’s a unique situation,” Humphey said. “They came to us and said they wanted to come together as a group and support this. We could not put on this tournament without the sponsors and the volunteers.”
Two major changes have been added to the facilities at the recreation complex, according to Gregg Powell, director of the Easley Parks and Recreation Department. Netting has replaced the fence in front of the stands behind home plate, giving fans a more unobstructed view. In addition, a new, indoor batting center has been completed, featuring eight batting cages, seven soft toss/tee batting cages and four sectioned off pitching areas.
Powell said the fields at the JB “Red” Owens Complex were closed down at the end of June to give maintenance workers time to get the fields ready for play. There are 11 maintenance staff who will be working on the fields before, during and after the tournament.
“Our crew does a great job of working on the fields and getting them ready,” Powell said. “We start getting things ready about a month and a half ahead of time.”
Bagwell added that all departments of the city will be on-call for any needs during the tournament.
In addition to serving as the director of the recreation department, Powell is a member of the Steering Committee for the Big League World Series and also is the Head Coach for the Easley-area team, which receives an automatic bid each year as the host team.
“It’s what I love and part of what I am,” said Powell of the multiple duties. “I don’t think twice about it. My wife says her Christmas is in December but Gregg Powell’s Christmas is in July.”
Alan Schaff, media director for the tournament, said volunteers fill a variety of jobs. They also have each team’s national anthem played before its games and someone sings The Star Spangled Banner at night games where US teams are playing.
Another important part of the volunteer effort is the host family program, where local families take on the responsibility of hosting a team. The host families provide snack bags for their team as well as helping with special needs and even help with the planning for activities during days when their team is free. Even the Easley-based team has a host family.
“This is a local family assigned to each team who serve as ambassadors for the city and the area,”said Schaff, who has hosted teams from the Central Region of the United States. “Many of the people coming in have never been here before and do not know what the community has to offer.”