SPRING HILL — Hernando County inarguably is a hotbed of youth baseball and softball talent.
This summer an unprecedented six county teams won state championships and are headed to various locations around the South to compete in World Series tournaments.
Above left: Jason Bienstock, 12, gets a donation from a Hess patron Friday morning at Mariner Boulevard and Countyline Road. The team is collecting money to help them on their trip to Lexington, S.C., for the World Series event. Above right: Jake Rice, 12, waits for a prospective contributor. The 2014 Ozone State Tournament trophy sits on a table in the foreground where Amanda Rice sold raffle tickets for an iPad mini. Fred Bellet/Community Newsphotos
The Spring Hill Senior Boys All-Stars were the latest local team to win a state title, when they traveled to Sebring on Wednesday and beat the home team, 14-10, in the 14-year-old championship game.
Like other state champion teams from Hernando, the team’s players and parents face another hurdle before they head out-of-state for the World Series.
The 14-year-old All Stars will look to raise about $7,000 to cover travel, lodging, food, gas and other expenses ahead of their trip to Bossier City, La., Coach Mike Rado said.
“We talked about it right after (Wednesday’s) game that we need to organize and start fundraising,” Rado said. “We’ve got 13 players and four coaches, and all the parents.
“The league (pays for) five rooms, so there’s rooms for the kids with four kids to a room. Anything above and beyond that is basically what you’re raising money for.”
Other county teams going to World Series tournaments include:
♦ Spring Hill American AAA Minors All-Stars, a baseball team of 9- and 10-year-olds headed to Lexington, S.C., from Aug. 9 to 14;
♦ Spring Hill Angels, a softball team of 9- and 10-year-olds going to Atoka, Tenn., where the World Series began Saturday;
♦ Spring Hill Ponytails, a softball team of 11- and 12-year-olds traveling to Ponchatoula, La., where the World Series begins Aug. 1;
♦ Spring Hill Ozone, a baseball team of 11- and 12-year-olds going to Lexington, S.C., where the World Series starts Aug. 2
♦ Brooksville Majors, a baseball team of 17- to 19-year-olds headed to Ozark, Ala., where the World Series began Saturday.
Mike Bertantino, as assistant coach with the Spring Hill American AAA Minors All-Stars, said the team of 9- and 10-year-olds hopes to raise $9,500 before the Aug. 9 tournament begins.
The AAA Minors All Stars are the first back-to-back state champions in the same age group from Hernando since Ernie Chatman guided the Brooksville Majors to wins from 1981 to 1983.
Bertantino’s squad is selling 15-second radio advertisements at jockjive.com, which streams audio coverage of live games. The ads cost $250.
The team also is accepting donations at P.O. Box 5517, Brooksville, 34604. Checks can be made to HYL, or Hernando Youth League.
“People who donate can get a tax credit and all of the paperwork will be furnished,” Bertantino said.
For information, people can call (352) 428-0444.
Bertantino said the team also has done everything from the usual bucket-drop donation requests outside local businesses to selling advertisements in team programs to a recent pancake breakfast fundraiser sponsored by Bigun’s Bar B.Q.
“The kids flipped pancakes, bused tables and cleaned the floors — did all the work they had to do,” Bertantino said. “That helped us raise about $600.”
With rooms costing about $125 a night in Lexington, S.C., costs add up. The AAA Minors All-Stars include 12 players, including a girl.
“The money we’re trying to raise isn’t for souvenirs or extras; it’s the bare essentials,” Bertantino said. “The parents make such a commitment, and they have to take time off from work. They’re losing their income to help their kids follow their dreams and goals.
“We’re trying to reach out to every mom, dad, aunt and uncle — anyone who can help out.”
AAA Minors All-Stars supporters also have launched an account on GoFundMe.com, an online fundraising website.
Amanda Rice, mom of power-hitting, 12-year-old, Spring Hill Ozone catcher Jake “The Snake” Rice, said that team also has established a GoFundMe account.
Rice said the team anticipates having to raise close to $10,000 for the trip to South Carolina.
“It’s awesome that (six) teams from Hernando are going to the championships, but finding the time to raise all of the money we need to raise in the amount of time we need to do it is hard,” she said.
By this week, Ozone players had raised about $3,700, mostly through donation buckets at local Hess, Walgreens, Dunkin’ Donuts and Publix locations.
Amanda Rice said the fundraising efforts generally are painless, although some local shoppers seem irritated when players ask for money.
Rice said the team’s parents are in regular contact about fundraising.
“Her phone never stops going off,” son Jake said.
Todd Pons, treasurer with Spring Hill Dixie Girls Softball, said it typically costs the league $3,500 to $4,000 to send a team to the World Series, although teams like the Series-bound Spring Hill Ponytails also do fundraisers.
“Whatever they don’t (raise), the league will make up the difference,” Pons said. “Even if they got no sponsors, we’d send them, regardless, but any money helps.”
Tim Sims, head coach of the Hernando County Majors, the 17- to 19-year-old baseball team, said the league has travel money for World Series teams saved in a trust fund.
“Hernando Youth League hosted the World Series back in the 1980s, and money from that was put into a trust account for the Majors program,” Sims said.
Still, the team would like to raise about $1,500 for lodging, food and other expenses, he said.
“(Fundraising) can be tough this time of year,” Sims said. “We’ve had them go in vans and buses. It just depends on fundraising capabilities and how the economy is doing. The community supports us very well. Several businesses have supported us throughout the years.”
Tara Rizzuto, mom of Spring Hill Ponytails catcher and pitcher Hannah Rizzuto, said the team had fundraisers recently at Anderson Snow Park, where they conducted a yard sale, and a bucket drop at the Hess on County Line Road and Mariner Boulevard.
“It’s been very exciting for the group of girls going this year,” Rizzuto said. “It’s the first time making it out of the districts. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
Rizzuto said local businesses like Topline Tire & Auto in Spring Hill and C&D Pulmonary in Hudson have been particularly helpful.
Bucket drops at Publix also have been fruitful, she said, although she echoed Rice’s comments about occasionally abrupt customers.
“We just tell the girls to always smile and say thank you,” Rizzuto said. “It’s tough, but our girls have been out there working hard.”