Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Game Room forges International friendships

By David Graham-Caso

There are more sports than just baseball being battled out in South Williamsport this week. Hotly contested matches are being waged many times a day. While the best youth baseball of the year is being played on the wide open fields of Williamsport, the games on the field have nothing on the games being played inside of the International Grove. The most competitive, most compelling and far and away, most important games being played are not baseball games, but instead games of ping pong.

The Game Room inside of the International Grove provides Little League World Series participants the opportunity to associate with children from every part of the globe. The game room, which opened a decade ago, is located smack dab in the center of the International Grove.

“We are open all day,” said game room supervisor Chip Hollingsworth. “From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Kids are in here pretty much constantly.”

The reason for the game room’s wild popularity is simple: it is a central location with 11 arcade games, five ping pong tables, two pinball machines and a foosball table. In other words, it is a 12-year old boy’s dream room.

“We spend most of our time in here when we are not practicing or playing games,” said Thousand Oaks outfielder Cody Thompson in between games of ping pong. “The games are really fun and you get to meet a lot of players from other teams.”

Hollingsworth, a Columbus, Ohio native who treks to Williamsport each summer to help run the summer camp that is held on the Little League International complex, also sees the advantage of the opportunity for camaraderie that the game room provides.

“My favorite part about being in the game room all of the time is getting to meet all of the players,” he said.

The most played game in the game room is ping pong. The game of table tennis gives children of vastly different cultures common ground to break the ice and become friends. Ping pong is such a powerful tool in bringing the athletes together that it actually transcends language barriers.

“Playing (ping pong) with the international teams is fun,” Thompson said. “Some of the kids speak a little English. They mostly know numbers, so it works out.”

Saipan’s Cameron Nicholas agrees.

“The best thing about the game room is ping pong,” he said, barely glancing up from his 1-1 extra innings affair in the Clutch Hitter baseball arcade game. “I met a lot of kids from the Mid-Atlantic (Maryland) team. They are our neighbors in the Grove, but we play games in here too.”

There is no doubt that the game room is a perfect setting for young men (and ladies) to bond. The only question remaining is: Who actually is the best at ping pong?

“Mexico, Mexico is the best team,” Nicholas said.

“California is pretty good,” believed Hollingsworth.

“Transatlantic is really good,” said Thompson. “But we (California) aren’t too bad either.”

For ten days, these fledgling athletes are bombarded with baseball, pressure and press. The game room is pivotal in maintaining the sanity and spirits of the participants in the Little League World Series.

“The game room is an important part of the Little League World Series experience,” said Hollingsworth. “I couldn’t imagine the Series without it.”

© 2004 Little League Baseball Incorporated