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published: Sunday, July 22, 2012
A summer of champions
By DAN HOEHNE
It's been a summer like no other around these parts when it comes to Dixie Baseball.
Oh, there have been plenty of teams throughout the decades that won the state tournament championships and went on to represent Highlands County and the state of Florida in the Dixie World Series.
The last two Dixie Ozone World Series champions, in fact, were won by the Sebring All-Stars.
And yes, that core group of kids have moved up to the Junior Boys (age 13) level of play and claimed another state championship, which would be cause for county-wide celebration on its own.
But when you realize, along with them, four more Highlands County teams have won state championships this summer and are all in the process of preparing and traveling to their respective World Series, well, that takes it to a whole other level of pride and reverence.
From the little AAAs (9-10 years old) to the Majors (19-under), five teams from the Heartland are state champions - a literal handful.
Those AAAs, coached by Anthony Gaines, head to nearby Bartow to make their World Series showing beginning Saturday, Aug. 4, when they will face the Alabama state champions at 7:30 p.m.
The Sebring Ozone All-Stars, headed by Caesar Martinez, will be heading to Cleveland, Miss., this week to open their World Series against Team Louisiana on Saturday, July 28, at 6 p.m. Central time.
Head coach Dean Frazier and his collection of players will be making their fourth straight World Series visit, this time as Junior Boys, in Christianburg, Va.
They will be taking on Chester County, Tenn., on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.
As with the Ozone World Series, both the Majors and Pre-Majors (17-under) will hold their 11-state event this coming weekend, beginning Saturday.
The Pre-Majors squad, headed by Avon Park head coach Whitt Cornell, are heading to Guntersville, Ala., while the Majors team, coached by Chad Wright, heads to Laurel, Miss. Both teams will open their tourney playing Arkansas at 10 a.m. Central time.
These two older squads opened it up this year, making them county teams rather than one town taking on the likes of Polk County, which has been the growing trend.
And so, rather than the Avon Park or Sebring All-Stars, the Pre-Majors and Majors teams have been named Team Heartland and will represent the county in a true sense, with players from all three county towns among those on the rosters.
Each of the World Series bound teams either has, or is in the process of, hosting fundraisers to help allay the travel costs.
From car washes to donation deals worked out with local eateries, such as the Ozone teams' car today at Advanced Auto Parts across from the Sebring Walmart, and their deal with Chili's where all meals purchased this Monday, between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. with a special flyer will see 10 percent of the price go toward the team.
The Junior Boys squad will be holding a car wash Saturday, July 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Heartland National Bank, next to Gate gas station on US 27, for a $10 donation.
Anyone interested in making a donation to any -- or all -- of the teams can call the News-Sun at 385-6155 to get the appropriate coach's contact information.
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