By Benjamin Cohn
Leicester – A local youth t-ball team, The Erwin Warriors 6u all-stars, has earned a spot at the 2019 State Championships in Matthews, North Carolina, according to their coach, AJ Shipman.
Coach Shipman described the all-star team he coaches as an elite group made from some of the best players across Western North Carolina. It’s a post-season league and one based on tournament play, Shipman said.
“We have had three tournaments during the season, scattered throughout the season for the all-star [team]. We went undefeated at all three tournaments,” the coach told The Leader. “One was in Madison County and two were held at Erwin.” He then named other teams in the tournaments. “It was Madison, Yancey, North Buncombe, Fairview, all the teams entered it.”
He explained the process of forming a new team based on particular traits observed in the young athletes. “We select the elite kids from the [regular] league, we draft them onto a new team. We started out with what we call the ‘elites’. All the districts in Buncombe County [have] done that, so what you do is you select kids that have the potential to be all-star players and you form a team.
“We have the Erwin Youth League, so there’s six teams within the Erwin Youth League. The elite kids are selected from those six teams. My regular-season team also went undefeated.”
Shipman observed the kids playing t-ball and evaluated their strengths and weaknesses. Certain traits, like the ability to focus well, were sought in potential recruits.
“I held a tryout [and] I looked out for attentiveness, ability to listen. I look for their maturity. Some six-year-olds would rather play in the dirt. There are some six-year-olds that will surprise you [with their maturity],” he said.
A competitive candidate for elite play would possess, according to Shipman, “athletic ability and effort. Heart, effort, respect for the coaches. A lot of that stuff means a lot to me. If they’re good, coachable kids, I can teach them.”
He is conscious of the fact that he’s not instructing teens or young adults but small children.
“At six years old, you’re only as athletic as you’re going to be, but I can teach you the fundamentals. That’s my main goal, [teaching] the fundamentals of baseball. The way I teach the game is … first, I want to make sure the kids love the game, so they’re having fun. You always want to make sure they’re having fun.
“Once they’re having fun, then we start learning the basics, some advanced, fundamentals of the game of baseball. That itself turns your ball team into a competitive team,” Shipman explained.
“My coaches, the coaches in my team and my assistant coaches, our regular season team was undefeated. So then we created this elite, all-star team back in early April. We’ve played three tournaments. These are what they are, they’re called ‘elite tournaments,’ they’re like tournaments for all-stars. It is just tournament-based.”
He explained the tournament’s origins.
“Basically, what it is, it’s a county thing that we’ve done, all the Cal Ripken-league baseball teams, we put those together to try to create more competitive baseball teams on the Western side of the state,” Shipman said.
Later in the month, he and his squad of elite ballplayers descend on Matthews, North Carolina for the year’s biggest tournament, one which will determine the State Champion in youth t-ball.
Shipman acknowledged the hard work of his assistant coaches Kelly Carr, Quincy Parker and Brandon Morgan. The parting words he chose to share with readers were that “the kids have worked really hard in practice to get a chance to compete in this tournament. They’ve worked really hard.”