The new division was a hit in Year 1. Sparks Centennial President Steven Howe hoped it would have five teams. It got six teams from Sparks alone and then two teams each from the Reno American Little League and North Valleys Little League.
"I think we got the 80 best kids from Sparks and then 50 more with the Reno teams," Howe said. "Our regular season league was kind of unique. Having the Sparks and Reno teams allowed us to do that."
The spring league season wrapped up early last month. Now, Howe is coaching a group of all-stars from the division. All of his Sparks Centennial all-stars are Sparks kids. The Reno American and North Valleys area kids formed all-star squads as well. Those three teams, along with a club from Carson will compete at the District 1 Tournament which begins Tuesday and runs through Saturday.
Howe likes his group, which has been practicing for more than three weeks in preparation for the upcoming all-star tournament.
"This is kind of an interesting group," Howe said. "We have seven kids that made their high school (summer) teams. All of our kids that just finished eighth grade made their high school teams. Four are from Reed, two from Spanish Springs and one at Wooster. We've had to manipulate our practice schedules to make sure kids don't get burned out and that we didn't interfere with high school stuff, because that's important as well."
The Centennial League president and coach praised local high school coaches and the relationships they've built to promote the new juniors division and now its all-star team.
"We've worked with the high school coaches," Howe said. "It's gone well ... Coach Hofmann at Spanish Springs and coach Van Tress at Reed, those guys really bought into what we're doing as a juniors program, as a feeder program for them. We couldn't ask for a better couple partners to make this league go.
"And these kids have gelled. At times, they've gone to summer high school games at 11 and 1 and then come back for all-star practice at 7 and we've probably still practiced four times a week. We've tried to make practices short and really focused. We've had a plan so the kids don't get bored."
Howe stressed that his all-star kids have worked hard to improve and come together as a team over the last month. He thinks team speed can be real a strength for his squad and added that it has some power as well as pitching depth.
Additionally, Howe believes it will be a competitive all-star tournament. He pointed out that Carson was the lone District 1 team to field a Juniors Division all-star team last summer so it got an automatic state berth. The Capital City club went on to win the state crown and win three games at its western regional tournament. Still, he fully expects his new Sparks team and the Reno American team to be competitive.
The confident coach knows what Carson accomplished a year ago with its deep summer all-star run and yet he is betting on his Sparks Centennial team to find its own success.
"I know those other teams are going to be tough, but pound for pound, I don't think anybody can beat us twice. That will be tough for any of those teams. I expect this time next week, we'll be making reservations for (state) in Vegas. A lot of coaches will tell you they don't want to make those kinds of predictions but anything less will be a disappointment."
"A lot of these kids have never been out of the district. They've always lost to Carson or Washoe. So I know they're hungry... I'm pretty happy with their attitudes. They're chomping at the bit to get out on the field."