In the flash of red-and-blue police lights, against the glow of a roaring bonfire, Elyria's East Little League Junior softball team came home Sunday night from the Pacific Northwest.
The girls, who on Saturday lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to a team from Puerto Rico, finished second in Little League's Junior World Series for softball players 13 and 14 years old. But they returned from the Seattle area no less triumphantly than if they had won the championship. The title game was televised live by ESPN Classic.
More than 100 fans, including Mayor Bill Grace, were on hand at East Little League's Vic Janowicz Memorial Park when a caravan carrying the team arrived with an Elyria police escort shortly after 10 p.m.
The players and coaches, who left for Kirkland, Wash., on Aug. 15, returned from the caravan with Jack Sito's trademark "Give Me An 'E'!" resonating cheer that spells "Elyria." Hugs with family and friends and joyful tears ensued.
Grace congratulated the team and addressed the fact that four of its players are from the Keystone school district. Elyria and Keystone - with two titles each - are the only Lorain County high schools to have won state softball championships.
"You girls really did us proud," the mayor said. "On behalf of a grateful city, we're very appreciative. Watching the game on television, I was really proud to see Elyria, Ohio, blasted all over the screen. Like Mastercard, what you did for us was priceless.
"I also want to thank you LaGrange girls, too," Grace said to loud applause and cheering. "I'll make you girls official Elyrians, all right? At least until next spring when softball starts again."
He referred to the fact that Keystone and Elyria High, while in different enrollment divisions and about 10 miles apart, are keen softball rivals who meet on the diamond almost annually.
"We want to thank you for representing Elyria Little League, Elyria, LaGrange, Lorain County and the state of Ohio in your runner-up (finish) at the 2009 World Series," said Kevin Brubaker, president of East Little League and a member of the Elyria City Council.
And Chris Sito, East Little League's softball administrator, said: "I know some of you watched the (title) game at Scoreboards in LaGrange, but I can tell you at (Buffalo Wild Wings in Elyria), I heard the crowd cheer for a Browns' touchdown. But when they (ESPN Classic) put the picture of Elyria up on the screen, I have never heard more ruckus and screaming from a sports bar in my life."
Sito then said it was important to bring the celebration to a close, "because some of you have to be in school in the morning."
The only other area Little League team to approach what this year's team accomplished was Elyria's 1969 Little League West baseball team. That squad tied for third place in the World in Williamsport, Pa., after winning nine games and tying one in tournament play. That team, which won district, state and regional championships, was enshrined in the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.