By Mike Mattson

Today, I look back and tip my hat to the 2002 Roosevelt Park Little League Major Boys All-Star Team.

I served proudly as manager of this group of gritty 11- and 12-year-olds who finished as the state runner-up. Has it really been 10 years since that memorable summer?

Members of the 2002 Roosevelt Park LittleLeague Major Boys All-Star Team are kneeling from left: Assistant coach Ross Gleason,Kyle Gleason, Tyler Whitlow, Johnny Childers, Dan Balgooyen, Nate Smith, MilesTerrell and manager Mike Mattson. Standing from left: Brian Johnson, JacobHill, Kyle Mattson, Chris Mattson, Eric Davis and assistant coach Andy Smith.

Those boys have all grown up ­- Brian Johnson, Jacob Hill, Kyle Mattson, Eric Davis, Chris Mattson, Kyle Gleason, Nate Smith, Johnny Childers, Dan Balgooyen, Tyler Whitlow and Miles Terrell.

Some are starting careers as engineers, some are planning to become doctors and some are finishing up college. I believe they all will become successful, productive citizens in life.

But for one summer, these guys formed my special team.

A year earlier, Roosevelt Park made the area’s best-ever Little League run. The Park captured the state title and finished one win short of a trip to Williamsport, Pa. with a tough 4-1 loss to Brownsburg, Ind., in the regional championship on ESPN2.

The next year, loyal assistants Ross Gleason and Andy Smith joined me in a quest for excellence and continuing the Park’s success in the state tournament.

We were not as talented as the 2001 RP team, but this group had a great work ethic and made wise use of practice time. Most importantly, they played the game well under pressure.

We actually lost early in the District 12 tournament and had to fight out of the loser’s bracket. That proved to be a blessing as we gained more repetitions and developed more team confidence with the added games.

With a district title under our belts, we headed east to Richmond for the state tournament.  We were ready, knowing that state powers Georgetown (Jenison), Grosse Pointe Farms-City, Blissfield and Bay City Southwest were in the field.

Our pool included Blissfield, Georgetown, Lincoln Park American and Negaunee. Blissfield won the pool at 4-0 and handed us our lone loss 3-2. We outslugged Georgetown 11-6 and finished our pool with a 3-1 record, which advanced us to the state semifinals as a wildcard team based on our runs per defensive inning ratio.

In the semifinals, we topped Comstock Eastwood 2-0 in a well-played defensive game. I was so happy to see this group of guys celebrate a huge win and earn a shot at defending Park’s 2001 state championship.

In the finals, we faced Grosse Pointe Farms-City. I sensed we were ready before the game and the guys seized the early momentum with a 1-0 lead.

But then an unbelievable thing happened. The game was suspended due to a tornado warning. The field was cleared and coaches and players were sent to a nearby church basement until the danger had passed.

The long delay was not good for us. Farms-City regrouped and handed us a 6-1 defeat, ending our dream of returning to Indianapolis for the regional tournament.

I could not have been more proud of this group of kids. They gave up most of their summer for baseball and made the Muskegon area proud with their play and class on and off the field.

It was indeed a team effort as each player pitched in during the state-title run.

We also had great support from parents, local fans and Steve Schuitema, the Roosevelt Park Youth Association president and manager of the 2001 juggernaut.

For two years, Roosevelt Park proved it was among the state’s elite Little League programs. Hopefully the 2002 group will look back on that summer and appreciate the positive experience that came from hard work.

So today, I tip my cap to you guys. Thanks for a truly memorable summer.

Mike Mattson is a contributing writer for the Local Sports Journal who has covered Muskegon area sports for 23 years.