Taney Dragons: A team of 'high character'

Posted: August 15, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT - Taney Dragons player Joe Richardson Jr. said there's one ritual he will perform before stepping onto the field for the team's first game in the Little League World Series today: He must eat a bag of Skittles.

"I didn't know that was a ritual," his father, Joe Richardson Sr., of Francisville, said. "I just thought he wanted to eat candy."

As the first of the Taney Dragons players' families arrived at the Little League World Series complex in South Williamsport yesterday, they gathered around the batting cages and got their first look at their children in days. Ann Marie Reardon and her husband, Bryant Simon, who live in West Philadelphia, said while they have talked to their son, Eli, on the phone during his first trip away from home, the conversations seem to have gotten shorter as the days have passed - which is a good sign that he's having fun.

"We can talk to him, but it's more, 'Does he want to call us or go get a free pair of Oakleys?' We're losing," Bryant Simon said, laughing. "But the day he got here, he called us super excited and had long, detailed conversations with the both of us."

"That was three days ago!" Reardon said.

In the meantime, the players' parents have kept busy communicating with one another through a network of emails, texts and pictures, said Reardon, who sent photos of yesterday's opening ceremonies to the parents who had yet to arrive.

Reardon, a nurse practitioner who does shift work, said her colleagues stepped up to ensure she could attend.

"People have been amazing," she said. "When they got to the World Series, my friend texted me and said, 'I can work the 18th for you!' "

Bryant Simon said he's been taking pictures of Daily News articles on the Taney Dragons and sending them to his son in Williamsport, via cellphone.

The feelings Bryant Simon said he was experiencing, he couldn't quite name.

"I'm having emotions I never had before - and I went to the University of North Carolina, so I've had some big emotional investment in games," he said. "But I've never had this before."

Getting to the Little League World Series isn't Eli Simon's only accomplishment this year. According to his folks, Eli won second place in critical thinking at the city-wide George Washington Carver Science Fair for his study on behaviorism and the placebo effect.

Eli Simon's older brother, Ben, 15, couldn't be prouder, even if he is a tad envious of his kid brother's athletic success.

"I'm jealous. It's everybody's dream to be on ESPN," he said. "It's cool that he gets to live it out."

John Mallory, 47, traveled all the way from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to see his nephew, Carter Davis, play in the Little League World Series.

"I remember when I was 12 and this was the ultimate dream, and I never got to come," Mallory said. "So I get to kind of live it through Carter now."

None of the family members at batting practice yesterday had any game-day rituals they perform on their players' behalf. Most said they weren't nervous for the big game - just excited. The word most often used to describe what it was like to see their child play on a national stage was "surreal."

Kevin Lawrence, 47, of York, isn't related to any of the players but he brought his two sons, 8-year-old Connor and 3-year-old Cooper, to see the Dragons' batting practice yesterday.

A month ago, the family didn't know the Taney Dragons "from Adam," he said, but a father-sons trip led them to the championships in Bristol, Conn., where they met the team.

Lawrence said the players gladly took pictures with his kids and let them play with their phones.

"Now, whenever [Taney Dragon] Jared Sprague-Lott comes on TV, my 3-year-old says 'That's my best friend!' " Lawrence said.

Within minutes of the Lawrence family's arrival at the batting cages yesterday, Sprague-Lott and Mo'ne Davis came over to say hello to the boys and before the team left, they spent time talking with the family again.

"Mo'ne has had more interviews than President Obama and she still took the time to say hello to a 3- and 8-year-old," Lawrence marveled.

Young Connor turned to his dad and repeated something he had once heard Mo'ne say on television, something that stuck with him.

"She said it's not just about her, people worry too much about her," he said. "It's about the team."

Kevin Lawrence said he wants to start his own Little League team, in part, because of what he's seen in the Taney Dragons.

"I'm more impressed with them as young people than I am with them as players, and I'm very impressed with them as players," he said. "They are emblematic of what Little League is supposed to be about: high-character kids."

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