It’s a special day for Hunter Jackson as he celebrates a milestone in his young life. Wednesday, he received his college diploma from Middle Georgia State University.
Ten years ago, Jackson was involved in another celebration – this one a little more over the top. He was part of the Warner Robins American Little League team that stunned almost everyone by winning the Little League World Series.
“I still don't know if we know what it means yet. I think we think we have an idea, but you look back on it, and it really is a special thing,” said Hunter Jackson.
“Sometimes, I come in here and reminisce and say, 'Wow, what an experience with a great group of guys where we'll be friends for a lifetime,'” said Dalton Carriker, another player on that championship team.
“You know, it was a run and we didn't expect to do that, being the little team from Warner Robins, 'the Little Team That Could' is what they called us.”
That run included district, state, and southeast regional titles, which put the guys from Warner Robins on the big stage in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
“You're just in the moment, you're just having a good time, and any league that says they're preparing to win the Little League World Series – they are either delusional or just trying to pull your leg,” said Roman Jones, the league’s President.
Jones actually thought the Warner Robins Little League team in 2006 was better than the team in 2007, but regardless, there they were, competing with the best teams from around the world.
“We all had kind of a game plan in mind, but it was to make sure that the kids had fun and just make sure they didn't get in trouble and give them the freedom to be kids,” said Mickey Lay, who managed the WRALL Team.
The kids enjoyed that freedom, but they also took care of business on the field, even if some of the other powerhouse teams weren't paying much attention.
“All I remember was Dusty Baker coming up and said, 'Man, you got a pretty good little team because everybody's kind of overlooking you,' and I said, 'That's exactly what I'm looking for,'” Lay said.
Even after Warner Robins run-ruled a strong Arizona team, few people picked them to topple Texas in the U.S. Championship game. That’s exactly what they did.
“And to go out there and prove the entire nation, really besides the people backing us, that we actually had a chance,” Carriker said.
The win over Texas propelled the team into the World Championship game against Japan.
“To be honest, I figured as disciplined as Japan is that they would pretty much wear us out, but you knew you got to have faith in those kids,” Lay said.
That faith paid off as the Warner Robins team battled Japan into extra innings. The score stood at two-all when Carriker stepped up in the bottom of the 8th inning.
“He throws me a curveball pretty far off the plate, and you know, I threw my hands at it and made good contact and you know, the rest is history,” said Carriker.
The walk-off home run earned the squad the title of Little League World Series Champions. The city welcomed the boys home with a parade. Then the team headed up to the White House to chat with President Bush, and most importantly, a permanent place in Warner Robins Little League History.
“But at the end of the day, we're trying to teach kids character, courage, and loyalty, not to go win a Little League World Series,” said Jones.
10 years later, those teens are in their early 20s. Here's what each member of the team is doing now, a decade later:
- Hunter Jackson - Played college baseball at South Georgia State College before transferring to Middle Georgia State University where he graduated this week. Jackson is also engaged to Coach Lay's niece, Kayci Price.
- Clint Wynn - Played college baseball at Kennesaw State for two years before transferring to Middle Georgia State University where he graduated.
- Dalton Carriker - Played baseball at Wallace State before transferring to Kennesaw where he graduated this week. Carriker is a groomsman for Jackson's wedding.
- Kendall Scott - Played baseball at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before transferring to the University of Georgia. Scott is Jackson's best man for his wedding.
- Nick Martens - Played baseball at Gordon College.
- Zane Conlon - Played baseball at Gordon College before transferring to Middle Georgia State University. Conlon is now in Nursing school.
- Taylor Lay - Played Football at Georgia Southern before joining the Marines.
- David Umphreyville - Attended South Georgia State College. Umphreyville is a groomsman for Jackson's wedding.
- Hunt Smith - Played baseball at Georgia Southwestern before transferring to the University of Georgia. Smith got engaged on Easter this year.
- Payton Purvis - Attends Kennesaw State.
- Micah Wells - Played baseball at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before transferring to Georgia Tech. He is on track to graduate next year with an Engineering degree.
- Keaton Allen - Currently working.
- Coach Mickey Lay - Retired from head coaching after winning the championship. Spent three years as a district administrator for the league and then President for one year.