FORT MEADE – A group of local boys will be in it to win it when they hit the field 575 miles north of home this weekend.
The Fort Meade 12U Dixie Youth O-Zone All-Stars baseball team is on the road to the 2019 Dixie Youth World Series to compete in the Division II Championship in Lumberton, N.C.
The local squad won the Division II Florida State Championship at the beginning of the month in Bristol.
The team, made up of boys 12-years old and younger, has gone undefeated in games leading up to the national competition that will bring together teams from Florida, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Texas.
Coach Jemalle Cornelius said one big advantage the team has is that it does not rely on just one or two pitchers.
“We have enough good pitchers for every game. We don’t have to strategize and pick and choose,” Cornelius said. “We aren’t like other teams that usually just have one good pitcher.”
The fast pitch conference requires that each member of the team bats at least once and plays defense for one inning. The team won the district tournament in North Lakeland advancing to the state tournament – all undefeated.
“I can honestly say that the reason we are winning is not because of one person -- it’s the team,” Cornelius said. “It’s been close sometimes and there’s always a different guy who comes through.”
The team took a few days off after winning the state championship but since then has been hard at work practicing every day.
Cornelius has been coaching at this level for 14 years and, years ago, played college football for the University of Florida under then-coach Urban Meyer. He says he took one of Meyer’s philosophies with him in his transition from an athlete to a coach.
“The number one thing to be a good team is to have a good defense. If a team can’t score against you, they can’t win,” Cornelius said.
The team has a pre-game ritual, according to Cornelius, and it will remain the same as always for the World Series.
“We (the coaches) remind the team what’s important. Yes, it’s important to have fun but we are going out there to win,” he said. “No one ever had fun losing.”
He said that the staff also emphasizes good sportsmanship and attitude.
Jayden Cornelius, a center fielder and rising seventh grader at Union Academy in Bartow, said one of their advantages is that the team is used to one another.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time – some of us since t-ball,” Jayden said.
Scott Harrell and J.C. Barnett are also coaches and will travel to North Carolina with the team in a van loaned to them by a local church. Another vehicle will accompany the team with its equipment. “We appreciate all the community and parental support,” Cornelius said.
A send-off was scheduled for the team when they left July 24. Play begins Friday, July 26, and the team’s first game is at 10:30 a.m that morning against South Carolina.
Even though the team has already left, donations are still needed. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for tax deductible donations at https://www.gofundme.com/fort-meade-ozone-allstars.