ABC News’ Lawrence Dechant reports:
It is the most heartwarming little league baseball story since the Bad News Bears, only without the booze.
Chris Puckett and Cameron Shelly are both six-time all star high school baseball players, and both are the unlikely coaches of a little league team. The two teens defied the odds and won the District 68 Tournament of Champions in San Clemente, Calif.
“In Little League, there are usually parents who coach, but the idea for the kids to coach started when they needed a team in the juniors because no one could do it,” Greg Puckett, Chris’ father said. “I said I could do it because I did not want to disband the team, but I had one stipulation: I wanted Chris and Cameron to coach the team.”
Puckett, 15, and Shelly, 14, led the San Clemente American No. 2 team to a 15-5 record in the juniors division and defeated Viejo USC 10-9 in the final game, a game Puckett said was the “most exciting of the season.”
“You could see tons of bricks come off their shoulders, the weight of the whole season and the win of a championship come off of their shoulders,” Greg Puckett said. “It reminds me of that old story about the misfit toys that kind of got left behind. They were in the lowest division of the juniors, they are the ones that didn’t have a lot of baseball in them and they won.”
Greg Puckett had to clear his decision for the teens to coach by Little League District 68. Once the coaches were decided, Puckett said the biggest obstacle to overcome was skepticism from the parents.
“It wasn’t a quick turn-around for some parents, and some, it took them a couple of weeks, but once they saw what was going on, emotions were running wild,” Puckett said. “After a few practices the parents saw the kids and how they responded to Chris and Cameron, and it was like night and day.”
Eric Wagoner, whose son Tucker played on the team, said his skepticism about two teens taking over coaching duties was short-lived.
“I’ve known a bunch of 14-year-olds who are irresponsible and immature and don’t know how to run a team, but these boys made it happen,” Wagoner said. “Aside from that, we had a great family support, plenty of parents at the game, the kids got along great. We had a team that was 100 percent focused and we owe all of that to the dynamic of having young coaches.”
The final game of the season left the audience clinging to their seats at the bottom of the seventh inning.
The last two outs of the game came as a result of the catcher dropping a strike, but quickly retrieving the ball and throwing to the third baseman who tagged the runner who was advancing home, thus resulting in a second out. The third baseman in turn, quickly threw to first base once he realized the batter had delayed, resulting in a third and final out, winning the game.
“That was one of the craziest Little League games I’ve seen, and I have to take my hat off to the other team,” Wagoner said. “I don’t think that the coaches or the team knew what hit them. It was a very climatic way to finish the season. But that last game was fun. It couldn’t have been scripted any better.”
For Chris Puckett, coaching a team has been a life-long dream, a dream he was happy to share with a group of aspiring baseball players, who almost lost their opportunities to play.
“They were the kids that never really played in Little League, and never had the chance to,” the younger Puckett said.
He said teaching the game wasn’t his only concern, rather he wanted to “inspire the team and develop them into baseball players ready for high school.”
“It was shaky at the beginning because we had to teach them new things. We started building them up and they just got it and it started to click,” the younger Puckett said. “I’ve wanted to do this [coach] for a while because I just wanted to teach younger kids and help prepare them for high school life, and I wanted them to have fun.”
Both Puckett and Shelly demanded their team speak directly to them, and not involve their parents, a procedure carried out in high school. They also had no reservations about telling their team what was on their mind.
“A parent can tell a kid to stop doing something, but when a kid tells them to do it, it seems they respond better,” Wagoner said.
The coaches made the team practice two to three times a week, run laps and endure strength conditioning to gear up for games.
“They really pushed the kids,” Wagoner said. “My son’s batting and conditioning got better. The boys really ran the team on a performance basis, just like a high school team and the kids were striving hard at practice to be the best they could and they worked really hard.”
Puckett and Shelly have both said they would like to continue to coach, but for now, their fate is still undecided.
“There’s a rumor that they want to do it again at our after season party,” Wagoner said. “I would 110 percent support that and would want to be a part of that season. I really like the dynamic of having the younger kids coach.”
The culmination of two novice coaches and a victory that no one saw coming, left Chris’ father “beaming with pride.”
“When I get a chance to hear comments like that and hear them praise your son, I have to step back and think about it, but to actually see it in front of you happening I was extremely proud about how Cam and Chris did the whole season,” he said. “It was a proud moment. I had confidence in them, I was real proud, they did it.”