August 6, 2009 |

Junior League team is turning heads

West Plains’ team is home from state and fifth place

finish after undefeated regular season

By PAUL DELANEY

Staff Reporter

A winning tradition is being built in West Plains Little League by coaches who revel in the history of the game they love.

Mike Paulson and Kerry Kelly have just helped guide their team of 13 and 14 year-olds to another state tournament appearance, equaling their fifth place finish of a year ago, finishing 1-2 at the Yakima event. After winning their first game against Richmond, 6-1, they lost to Kalama 11-1 before being eliminated by Bellevue, 6-3.

“It doesn’t really matter at this point what they do at state, they’re already champions and they’ve already proven to us that they’re a bunch of great kids,” Paulson said.

Paulson and Kelly have also helped lead Jongeward Construction to a combined two-year record of 31-0 in Junior League play. People are asking, “Who is this West Plains team?” Paulson said.

Well it’s a group of 12 young men, eight from Cheney and four out of Medical Lake.

And it’s a team that is not only learning the fundamentals of the game from a couple of “old-school” guys who grew up watching some of the true greats of the game, but also getting immersed in baseball history as well.

Paulson is the vice president of the West Plains Little League, a board member on the Medical Lake booster club and when he has some spare time he works at the Dealer’s Auto Auction.

Kelly starts work between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. as the supervisor of a merchandising crew at Costco on East Sprague in Spokane. “I try to create little traffic patterns for you guys to walk through and maximize our sales,” he said with a chuckle. Kelly works the crazy hours so he can coach baseball and watch his kids play sports.

“When Kerry and I first became acquainted with each other he was applying for the Medical Lake (baseball) job,” Paulson said.

“I think we both have the same philosophy when it comes to teaching the kids how to play the game,” Paulson explained. “How to play it, one - at a level they’re not used to playing - and playing it in a way that is respectful.”

Paulson said that there’s a way to play the game and be aggressive and be good, but also being respectful to the opponent. “I’ve always felt that if you can walk away from a game and have the opponent say that was a great team (we played),” Paulson added.

“And to build on what Mike said, I think that’s one thing that really works with Mike and I,” Kelly said. “Mike is a little more serious. We both have a true respect of the history of the game. When we hang out with the kids we talk about players we used to idolize when we were playing.”

Paulson is the boss, Kelly said. “Mike’s in charge when things are going wrong, but when things are going well I’m the third base coach,” Kelly said. “When we have problems, we switch,” Paulson chimed in.

But problems appear to be few and far between considering this is the third year in a row this particular league is representing state.

“It’s a tribute to the league,” Kelly said. “The people who started this league, Adam Smith and some of the founders of the West Plains Little League. Mike (Paulson) is a part of it.”

“The sophomore class at Cheney and some of the juniors out here at Medical Lake – the Nick Pachecos the Ronnie Millers – they were all part of these state teams in the past,” Kelly said. “So it’s just a good thing. I think we’ve taken it and kind of raised the bar a little bit. It’s also a tribute to these kids, they’re sponges (for learning) and good kids.”

The old-school approach is reflected in multiple facets of the game. “Look at our team, they all have baseball haircuts; they all wear their hats straight’ their pants (legs) are all down; they look sharp; they hustle in and out of the field; they play catch together,” Paulson said. “They do everything together and with a purpose,” he added.

“You don’t have to tell them what to do. They know what to do,” Kelly said. “Every practice we have on this field, every game we play, when we’re done those kids maintain the field.”

The kids rake, they get the water hose out, they drag the infield and sweep the baselines. “To me that’s how to teach the kids to respect the field they play on,” Kelly said. “That’s old school, I don’t think that gets taught anymore.”

Kelly said that if you’ve been around team practices and something goes wrong, the coaches call the team in for a meeting. “They’ll come running to home plate and I say, ‘what am I gonna say, and they’ll have the answers,” Kelly said. “It’s ‘coach I didn’t do this, I didn’t back up, I didn’t hustle. And in my head I’m going, ‘my work’s almost done, you know.’”

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com

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