The championship series
of Little League baseball
, held each August
in Williamsport, Pennsylvania
. While Little League Baseball
itself sponsors many age divisions with their own championships, the level officially dubbed "Little League" is age 11-12, and that is the age level of LLWS teams.
Although the formats and regional breakdowns have changed many times over the years, the common thread is two double-elimination brackets, one for U.S.-based teams and one for non-U.S. The champs of each bracket meet in the single-elimination final, televised nationwide in the U.S. by ABC.
The teams playing in this series are not the LL teams you'd find going down to your local municipal park on a spring evening, wearing the hats and names of randomly selected major league clubs. Those teams are drafted selections from the entire player pool, meant to (theoretically) ensure an even distribution of talent across the league*. After each league's regular season, an all-star team is selected; these teams first play in area tournaments for their metro area, from which they can advance to the state level, then regional. (Similar structures exist for non-U.S. teams.) The regional champs advance to Williamsport.
In 2001, 16 teams total advanced to the series, necessitating that each bracket be broken up into two pools, from which 2 semi-finalists each would advance. The brackets were as follows, with regional winners' cities listed:
- Canada: Calgary, Alberta
- Mexico: Matamoros, Tamaulipas
- Caribbean: Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
- Latin America: Santiago de Veraguas, Panama
- Pacific: Hagatna, Guam
- Europe (including Africa, the Middle East, and all of the former Soviet Union): Moscow, Russia
- Asia: Tokyo, Japan
- Transatlantic (European-based teams of primarily American overseas dependents -- children of diplomats, military, businessmen, etc.): Saudi Arabia
Through the 1970s and 1980s, the tournament was dominated by teams from Taiwan (14 out of 21 champions 1971-1991 were Taiwanese). A particularly long string was broken in 1989 by a team from Trumbull, Connecticut who became U.S. national heroes; the winning pitcher in the final against the Taiwanese was Chris Drury, later to become an NHL Calder Trophy winner with the Colorado Avalanche (now playing with the Calgary Flames). Not long after this string, it was discovered that the Taiwanese leagues had been cheating in two different ways; first, their leagues had been drawing from pools of 16,000-20,000 children, as opposed to the regulation 4,000-7,000, and second, many of their players were playing on falsified birth certificates anyway -- the players were actually 14 and 15 years old. Since this was discovered, only two of nine champs have been from Taiwan, a more reasonable number.
Since 1997, most preliminary games in the U.S. bracket have been televised by ESPN or ESPN2.
Source: various documents from littleleague.com, personal experience
* A particular "league" can only claim players living in a geographic area usually defined by public school zones; for example, living in the Evergreen Elementary School area meant that I would have played in Huguenot Little League, but had I been in the Crenshaw Elementary School zone as my cousins were, I would have played in Chesterfield Little League.