Photos provided by Loudoun South Eagles
This article is part of a series highlighting different organizations within NVTBL. Click here to read past feature articles. We will be posting new articles each week.
This summer, a group of 13 boys from South Riding, Va., reached the pinnacle of youth baseball and represented the Southeast region in the Little League World Series, becoming the first team from the state of Virginia to make it to Williamsport in 25 years.
What millions of people around the world watched on ESPN was the culmination of one team’s journey that started with the inception of the Loudoun South Eagles organization and the institution of hard work, discipline and a passion for the game that is ingrained when players enter the program, sometimes as young as six and seven years old.
Based out of South Riding, the Eagles’ main goal is to prepare their players for the rigors of high school baseball and beyond. With the focus on fundamentals, players build a strong foundation of skills at a young age and can develop those skills from season to season. The program has teams for players up to age 18 and prioritize continuity year after year to facilitate each player’s development.
As a result, local high schools Freedom, Rock Ridge and John Champe are riddled with former Eagles players while the Loudoun South Little League has had immense success at the local and national stages with current Eagles players. Not to mention, the Eagles are routinely excelling in local and tournament play.
“We see the kids a lot over a long period of time and provide them a consistent message. We want to develop high school players,” said a long-time Eagles coach. “It works out that we win a lot, but that is not our focus. Our focus is to develop fundamentals and rotate the kids around so they develop at a number of different positions.”
Alan Bowden led the Loudoun South team this summer to the LLWS with many kids he started working with when they first entered the Eagles’ program. Bowden believes it’s the continuity of coaching along with hours upon hours of hard work that began when he gave a group of 7-year-olds black and gold Eagles practice shirts that allowed his team to compete and succeed at the highest level of youth baseball.
“I would routinely tell the kids to not forget how you got [to Williamsport],” said Bowden. “These kids have played together for more than 10 seasons and that is how they get there. Hard work since they were 7-years-old.”
Unique to the Eagles program is their strategy for player development before they are old enough to play in the eight-and-under division in the NVTBL. No games are scheduled and players are stressed proper fundamentals and mechanics during practice. Coaches remove players from pressure situations and focus on having fun with friendly competitions.
Sean Lizama began the routine of working fundamentals with a group 7-year-olds and ultimately came within one win away from leading that same group to the LLWS in 2018. Bowden saw the benefit of teaching players fundamentals at that age and began coaching a group of 20 players following Lizama’s model. The following season an 8u team was formed from that group and five years later they played in the LLWS.
“We work on things we might take for granted, but it takes a 7-year-old an entire fall season to learn. You can imagine the advantage those kids have when they go to tryout the next season and they have had that training. It’s so apparent.”
Bowden above all enjoys working with the age group and strives to see the same level of enthusiasm from his players.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch those kids at that age and watch their excitement. When the kids don’t want to leave, that’s when you know you are getting it right and doing something well,” Bowden said. “They have to be enjoying it. That is the only way they are going to get better is if they love the game and want to come to practice.”
Eagles’ coaches are given autonomy on how they want to run their teams, but model the structure following the mold of past successful coaches, like Bowden and Lizama. They not only stress teaching fundamentals, but fostering character traits that help build outstanding teammates and members of the community.
“I try to model everything I do after Sean and Alan,” said one coach. “They are great leaders and have the ability to bring their players together better than anyone I have seen at that level.”
“The adults involved care more about the kids and their development than wins and losses,” said another coach. "It makes me happy that my kids are involved in this organization and happy to live where I do.”
Prioritizing participation in Loudoun South Little League during the spring has allowed the Eagles organization to work hand-in-hand with the local league to continue to make an impact on players in the community. The mutual relationship establishes unwavering support from the community while providing the best local coaching and facilities for their ball players.
“In my opinion, our community is unmatched in the country,” Bowden said. “As an organization, we have always thought Little League is an important part of community baseball and it’s important to have our kids play on different teams, play different positions, take leadership roles and play against each other. They enjoy it and we deem it a very valuable experience for the kids as it helps them become better young men and better overall players.”
The path to Williamsport is never paved overnight. It takes years of hard work, dedication to the craft and a little bit of luck. After laying the groundwork for years, the Eagles organization finally paved a path to baseball greatness and created a route for future Eagles teams, and others in Northern Virginia, to follow.
For more information on the Eagles program, visit http://www.loudounsouthbaseball.com/