It gave me a good feeling knowing I was an example of Christ to those around me. —McKenna Staheli
SANTA CLARA — It’s not every day a team gets the opportunity to play in the softball Little League World Series, but a group of 12- and 13-year-olds from Santa Clara, Utah, did. The effort and hard work of each member on the team made the experience worth it.
Emma Miller, 12 who plays right field for the Snow Canyon Little League team said, “I’ve really enjoyed playing softball with this team. We’re all really close and we have a good time with everyone. There is lots of team bonding experience that we’ve grown from.”
The journey to the tournament wasn’t one they expected, though. It started with a state tournament in Utah where the team went 4-0 to advance to the regionals. They had a week to prepare for the next tournament in San Bernardino, California.
“It was crazy in San Bernardino. I went down thinking this will be a cool experience, but after winning it was surreal,” said center fielder McKenna Staheli, 13.
The team didn’t entirely expect to make it out of San Bernardino. Nobody from Utah had before. After winning a game and realizing they could compete, the team got on a roll and kept winning. The team ended up winning the 12U West Region and made its way to Portland, Oregon, to compete in the Little League Softball World Series.
When head coach Markay Thorkelson got the schedule the first thing she saw was the team was scheduled to play on a Sunday. Her heart sank. Eleven of the 12 girls on the team are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The team and parents had a team meeting and decided on what they would do. Most of the girls had never been in a situation where they would try to decide about playing sports on a Sunday.
Jenna Thorkelson, 12, who pitches for the team said, “It was a hard decision at first. I asked myself, 'What if I did play on Sunday?' But the more I thought about it, it made me feel sick inside, so I made the choice not to play."
“Once we started winning I felt more pressure to play, but I knew things would turn out OK," Miller said.
The game time and dates are assigned to each region before the qualifying tournaments, Brian McClintock, the senior director of communications for the Little League International, said.
“Little League greatly respects and supports the variety of cultures, faiths and beliefs of all of those that participate in the programs around the world, however, it is the policy of Little League International and the Tournament Committee that the predetermined schedule cannot be changed at the request of a participating team," McClintock said.
The forfeit cost Snow Canyon their final game of pool play, dropping the team to 2-2, forcing them to play a higher-seeded team in the first round of bracket play.
Snow Canyon did end on a high note, placing fifth overall by beating a team from the Netherlands 10-0.
The team couldn’t change a game they were scheduled to play on a Sunday, but it didn’t change the attitude the girls had regarding the whole experience. For a lot of the girls, it was the first time flying on an airplane or being in a big city.
“Meeting the different teams from all over the world, getting to grow closer with my teammates, and loving each other more have been some of my favorite parts of this whole experience," Staheli said. "But it gave me a good feeling knowing I was an example of Christ to those around me. It doesn’t mean they have to become members of our faith. I just hope they thought about Christ a little more."
Carra McManamon is a native of Washington State and is attending the University of Utah. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @curramac22