WARNER ROBINS — Caravans of minivans, cars and SUVs decorated with stars, neon yellow softballs, team names and slogans painted in bright colors on the windows converged Wednesday in Warner Robins.
One car from Virginia simply read: “Bound 4 Regionals. Georgia or Bust.”
The cars carried nearly 100 girls to the Little League Southeastern Regional Headquarters as teams from eight states geared up for Thursday’s start of the regional softball tournament.
The 11- and 12-year-old girls hopped out of the cars, hair adorned with polka-dot and tiger-striped ribbons, others with sequined clips and glittered headbands positioned just so for team pictures.
As each team waited its turn, the girls braided hair, text messaged, played games of Angry Birds and talked of Justin Bieber.
“He’s so hot,” exclaimed one Florida player, pulling up a picture of the pop star on her cell phone.
“No he’s not,” her teammate said with a look of disapproval, before exchanging high-fives with an opponent from North Carolina.
Girls from the teams also exchanged phone numbers.
“It’s amazing that we get to play teams from different states that are going through the same thing that we are,” said Virginia player Grace Chambers. “We’ve never played in something like this, so big.”
The excitement and nerves are felt all around.
“The jitters are still here,” said West Virginia catcher Makala Bell, who played in last year’s tournament. “The field is very intense and just looking at it gives you chills.”
“Just enough jitters to keep them on their toes,” said her coach Tammy Alderman.
Four teams return from last year’s tournament, and two are first-timers.
Georgia’s Bartow County has come out with a vengeance, winning the state title in its first year on the Little League circuit.
Now the team is hoping for a little home field advantage, despite taking out two-time World Series champions and hometown team Warner Robins to represent the state in the regional tournament.
“If we had just beat Warner Robins and not won state, that would have been an accomplishment,” said coach Randy Lee. “That was like a World Series game.”
While many of the teams have different focus points — hitting, bunting, pitching — some take their preparation off the field as well.
Some teams have superstitions, like the Tennessee players who won’t fully braid their hair before games.
“We did that last year, and we lost,” said right fielder Jaclyn Painter.
There are also pre-game rituals.
“We have to listen to our song, ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ ” said North Carolina catcher Tristan Johnson.
All of the girls, however, have one mission in mind — make it to the World Series Aug. 11-17 in Portland, Ore.
“If we go on, it’s just crazy how much we can do,” said Virginia pitcher and center fielder Lucy Mulligan.
To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 744-4347.