This is the third of 10 stories about the best Long Beach youth sports teams we’ve seen over the last decade. We’ve taken nominations from the community and will release the top 10 in no particular order. Come back next week to read about other club squads that made this historic list.
The 2019 Uptown Long Beach 10U All-Stars are one of a handful of nominees sent in that were part of an unforgettably successful summer for local youth sports teams, and they made the list for a few reasons.
First of all, it’s very difficult to make history in Long Beach after decades of producing elite talent and championship teams. However, the Uptown Long Beach 10U All-Stars put their names in the history books last year by winning the SoCal State Tournament in their first year as part of the Cal Ripken league.
That’s an incredible accomplishment for these young baseball players because the Cal Ripken league is the top national competition for kids 4-12 who aren’t participating in Little League. Uptown Long Beach was in the minor division, which is the first level where teams compete in tournaments.
“We knew we had a really great group of kids,” Uptown LB coach Jeff Champlin said. “The kids had the right mentality to go far because they were just a really humble group. I think we exceeded our wildest expectations taking it as far as we did.”
Not only did Uptown LB reach a statewide tournament in the first summer of baseball tournaments these kids had ever participated in, they also upset local rival Los Altos in Simi Valley to win the SoCal State Tournament and qualify for the Pacific South West Regional in Honolulu.
“That’s the great thing about recreational leagues and families that come who can’t afford travel ball,” Champlin said. “We had a ton of diversity, which was awesome. We had a very strong Latino contingent, African-American coaches and the only girl on the team, Jaszee Childress, was hitting bombs in Simi Valley. It was just a great slice of America out there representing Long Beach.”
Qualifying for the Pacific South West Regional was just the first step to competing. The team and the entire Uptown LB family had to step up and raise money for the travel and accommodations. That’s the second reason this team made the list, because it brought the entire Long Beach sports community together. Even The562.org founding sponsor Marilyn Bohl donated $5,000 to help them afford the trip.
“The coolest thing is that a lot of these kids could never get to Hawaii,” Champlin said. “It’s just the reality of the situation, and to be able to do it through baseball with the support of the community was just huge. Regardless of how we did in the tournament, that experience was the most important thing for me, the kids, and the parents.”
Last July in Honolulu the Uptown LB All-Stars faced teams from Arizona, Nevada, Northern California, Utah and Guam. They weren’t able to advance to the next round, but they won two games in dramatic fashion.
Uptown LB started the competition with a combined no-hitter and a 5-1 win over San Luis Obispo. They scored four runs in the third inning to take the lead for good while Jerry Garfiaz led the way. Garfiaz pitched 3.1 hitless innings while striking out six, and Luis Romero III then pitched 2.2 hitless innings in relief. Garfiaz, who had only been playing baseball for three years, also went 2-for-3 at the plate.
Champlin said managing the young talent was all about a specified approach.
“For me it’s always about keeping them enjoying the game,” he said. “If a kid doesn’t have a love for the game they’re just not gonna play well. It’s about finding the currency that works for each kid. One kid might need you to really coach him up, one you might need to be honest with.”
Uptown LB also had a pair of mercy rule wins in Hawaii. Pitcher and coaches son Jack Champlin picked up a win over Guam after giving up one hit in 2.3 innings while striking out six and only walking one.
“I think if you talk to any dad who has that chance they’re going to feel a special connection,” Champlin said of coaching his son. “That’s been something that’s really brought us a lot closer over the years. The way he competes makes me really proud.”
The third reason this team makes this Top 10 Long Beach Youth Sports Teams Of The Decade is because they played with a Long Beach swagger. They loved representing their city and celebrated every hit, run and win with the energy you’d expect from a bunch of excitable kids from a city with high athletic expectations.
“I think that was the personality of the kids,” Champlin said. “We were going to leave no doubt that people know who we are by the time we leave that park. Not from the way that we may yell, scream or celebrate, but just the way we play the game. We’re going to play with passion. These are kids, they got to get out there and have fun, and so we really tried to promote that.”