The Langley All-Stars captured the Canadian Little League championship in North Vancouver in August, sending the team of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds to Williamsport, Pa. as the Canadian representatives.

The Langley All-Stars captured the Canadian Little League championship in North Vancouver in August, sending the team of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds to Williamsport, Pa. as the Canadian representatives.

Langley All-Stars top sports story of 2011

A group of pre-teenage baseball players stole the show and were arguably the top sports story in Langley for 2011

The Langley All-Stars improbable run began back in July.

And the remarkable thing is the team of 11, 12 and 13-year-olds very nearly never even advanced past the district championship stage.

For the past four years, this particular age group of kids from Langley Baseball had never beaten their counterparts from the White Rock South Surrey Baseball Association.

And during the district championships at South Surrey Athletic Park, this held true to form as Langley was once again foiled by their nemesis during preliminary round play.

Langley settled for second place heading into the playoff round, but the two teams would meet once again, this time in the championship final.

“It has always been in the back of the boys’ mind,” Langley manager Dean Cantelon said to The Times back in the summer of the group’s inability to get past White Rock South Surrey.

“Just that mental part of getting it done against them.”

Langley found itself trailing 4-1 in the final and down to their last three outs.

Cantelon and the coaching staff had one message to their players.

“Pray to the baseball gods and good things will happen.”

The prayers were answered in the form of the Langley players finally getting their bats going and scoring four runs to forge ahead 5-4.

White Rock South Surrey still had a half inning to try and respond, but all three batters were sent packing in short order.

And with that, Langley had vanquished their foe and advanced to the provincial championships.

But the team was far from done.

Playing at the provincial championships, the All-Stars again suffered a defeat during preliminary play. The team finished 4-1 and was seeded second for the playoff round, but won both their semifinal and championship game to advance to the national championships.

Again, Langley shook off a loss during preliminary play to defeat Valleyfield (Quebec) in the championship final.

The win advanced Langley to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa, just the second time ever a team from Langley made it to the famed tournament.

In Williamsport, Langley went 2-2 to finish fourth in the International Division.

The team defeated Saudi Arabia and Chinese Taipei, the first time a Canadian squad had ever beaten the latter country in 16 previous tries, but lost to Venezuela and Japan.

The players took the defeat hard.

“The boys don’t like to lose and they’re not used to losing,” Cantelon said afterwards.

“They’re holding their heads up high; they are proud of what they accomplished.”

Overall, it was a summer they will likely never forget, especially with the amazing atmosphere in Williamsport.

“You wouldn’t believe it, they’re treated like movie stars around here,” Cantelon said.

“On the other side of the gates are girls; just girls everywhere and adults too, wanting the boys’ autographs and photos with them.”

The players, coaches and parents felt tremendous support, not just from back home, but also from their American counterparts.

“When we pulled out in the van the boys were all packed in, we drove past the other stadium and there were just fans everywhere applauding these boys,” said Langley coach Jason Andrew.

“It is an absolutely amazing experience, and it’s really a once in a lifetime dream come true.”

By the end of the summer, when the team was recognized with a celebration party at City Park, the players marveled at what they had been through.

“It has been a good ride for us,” said Colby Ring, speaking on behalf of his teammates.

“We are going to look back at this when we are older and say ‘wow, that is unbelievable.”

Andrew called it a roller coast ride.

“We had our ups and downs and the managed to get through our downs and grow as a team,” he said.

“That kind of sums it up: this team was solid and never gave up.”

To commemorate the team’s accomplishment, a Canadian championship banner was unveiled behind home plate at City Park.

And while most may have thought this was the end of the team’s fame, that was not to be the case.

In October, Vancouver’s Ruth Hoffman heard about the plight of the Ugandan Little League team which was scheduled to face Langley in the opener of the World Series. Unfortunately, the team was denied entry into the United States because of discrepancies in the players’ paperwork.

Having spent time in the African country, Hoffman wanted to do something for the Ugandan players.

She read about a documentary, Opposite Field,  from New York filmmaker Jay Shapiro, chronicling the game in Uganda.

She soon began organizing a trip for the Langley All-Stars to Uganda on a goodwill humanitarian mission, called the Pearl of Africa Series.

The Langley team will be accompanied by Philadelphia Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins and Derek Lee, who is currently a free agent.

The trip is being organized through Right To Play, a not-for-profit organization.

The documentary will now include footage of the Langley All-Stars trip to Uganda in January.

In addition to the baseball, money will go towards legacy projects such as educational opportunities through scholarship programs for the Ugandan players, funding for travel to participate in international tournaments and funding to build a baseball diamond closer to where the players live.

As of last week, $120,000 of the $155,000 needed for everything had been raised.

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