The District 18 Little League Tournament begins this weekend and it’s the first step on the road of Williamsport.

Like the other teams of 12-year olds the Jackson Little League All-Stars are holding their final practices this week in preparation for the tournament where neighboring Holbrook is the defending champion.

Last night the 13 players on the team gathered at the home of manager Mike Antenucci. It was a fun get together to keep them loose as they prepare for the districts.  The kids ate, played games, swam in the pool, jumped on the trampoline and did what you would expect when 12-year olds get together in the summer.

However Antenucci and Coach Rob Paneque wanted this evening to have some meaning to it so the boys listened as Jackson resident Maureen Olsen talked to them about childhood cancer, a far cry from frivolous baseball conversation.

Chase Olsen was the youngest of Maureen and Kyle’s four children when he died of cancer in 2009 and the age of 9.  Since then the Olsen’s they have made it their mission to help others while raising awareness of childhood cancer which takes the lives of 7 children in the United States every day.

In 2011 they began awarding a scholarship to a Jackson Memorial High School senior whose life was impacted by cancer in some way.  This year it was too difficult to award just one scholarship so they presented two.  They have also helped numerous families deal with the burdens that come with cancer and many in Jackson are aware of the gold ribbons on display, especially in September which is childhood cancer awareness month.

Maureen’s message to the boys was to enjoy their time together and simply have fun and to also be able to explain what the gold ribbons mean on their uniforms when they are asked.  She gave them gold shoelaces which they will wear beginning this weekend and Kyle Olsen reminded them that two years ago the Jackson team that won the state tournament also wore gold shoelaces.

Jackson Memorial High School baseball coach Frank Malta and yours truly were also invited to speak to the team.  I recounted stories of the 1998 Toms River East American squad which won the Little League World Series but were almost knocked out in the districts before going on their magical run.

Good luck to Jackson and the other seven teams in District 18. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up spending August in Williamsport.