As each summer slowly winds to its close, one undying American tradition catches the national spotlight for a few weeks every year. The Little League World Series, which is played in late August, is one of the most wholesome and exciting sporting events on the sporting calendar.

Teams of 11 and 12-year-old baseball players from around the globe compete in Williamsport, PA, to crown a champion on the last Sunday in August. Over the past decade, the tournament has grown exponentially in popularity and has garnered major media coverage from both ESPN and ABC.

Humble Beginnings

Little League baseball was founded by Carl Stolz in 1938 in Williamsport, PA. Stolz enjoyed playing baseball with his two young nephews and ultimately decided that he wanted to create an organized league for his nephews to play in.

Stolz took a significant amount of time trying to come up with the best possible combinations of playing equipment and field sizes, and one year later games officially began on June 6, 1939. There were just three original teams in the league: Lundy Lumber, Lycoming Dairy and Jumbo Pretzel.

Little League baseball eventually expanded to 12 leagues in the state of Pennsylvania in 1946 and the first league popped up outside of the Keystone State just one year later. As the 1950s rapidly approached, there were over 300 leagues across the United States. Some eighty years later, there are currently over 180,000 Little League squads from all around the globe.

The Early Days

The first official Little League World Series took place in August of 1947 in South Williamsport, PA. After a tournament involving 12 teams from the area, the hometown team of Williamsport defeated a squad from Lock Haven, PA by the score of 16-7. The championship game drew over 2,500 spectators, giving rise to a yearly tradition in Central Pennsylvania.

National Television Catches On

Just six years after the first Little League tournament was held, the World Series was televised for the first time on CBS. CBS covered the event from 1953-1960 until ABC secured the rights to air the tournament in 1960. The tournament eventually switched over to ESPN in 2007, where it continues to air each year.

The Era of International Domination

In 1958, Little League allowed international competition into the tournament for the first time. Four teams from outside of the United States played in the 1958 series in which the team from Monterrey, Mexico took home the title. Teams from Chinese Taipei and Japan dominated the World Series in the late 1960s until the early 1980s, winning 13 out of 15 tournaments played during that time span.

The Competition Arrives at its Current Format

The Little League World Series has kept a consistent format since changing the tournament’s rule set back in 2001. The current format consists of 16 teams that are split into four pools of four teams. Two of the pools contain international teams and two pools contain teams from the United States.

Play-in tournaments are used to decide which local All-Star team represents a particular division. There are eight geographical regions that are each represented by one team each.

Great Lakes Region: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin

Midwest Region: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota

Mid-Atlantic Region: Delaware, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania

New England Region: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont

Northwest Region: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming

Southeast Region: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia

Southwest Region: Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, East and West Texas

West Region: Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Northern California, Southern California and Utah

The eight divisions that play in the International Bracket come from the following countries/regions:

Asia/Pacific, Australia, Canada, Caribbean, Europe/Africa, Japan, Latin America and Mexico

After pool play, the top two teams from each pool advance to the semi-final round. The winners of the semi-finals play in the International and American finals respectively, then the winner of the International side and the American side of the bracket face each other in the Championship Game.

Notable Participants

Since its inception back in 1947, the World Series has featured some participants that went on to have notable sports careers not only in the MLB, but the NFL and NHL as well. Current New York Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier won the tournament back in 1998 with Toms River East, NJ, while 9-time MLB All-Star Gary Sheffield played for runner-up Tampa, FL in 1980. Stanley Cup winner Chris Drury also won the Little League World Series back in 1989 and Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Cassel reached the finals of the tournament back in 1994 with his team from Northridge, CA. If you tune into the tournament this year, you just may catch an early glimpse of the next sports superstar.

(Image courtesy of Sam Nabi via Flickr.)