Eight members of the Big Sky Little League All-Stars got a little love on their home field on Thursday afternoon.
Eight of the 12 players are in seventh or eighth grade at Lewis & Clark Middle School in Billings. Just before the end of school on Thursday, they took center stage at a welcome-back ice-cream social on the school’s football field.
Eighth-graders Ben Askelson, Sean Jones, Patrick Zimmer and Cole McKenzie and seventh-graders Andy Maehl, Pearce Kurth, Brock MacDonald and Ian Leatherberry were honored.
Near the start of the social, the players came running out of the school building and through a red hand-painted banner with the words “We’re proud of you Big Sky All-Stars,” to cheers and clapping from the student body and teachers. Then they were introduced one by one.
After that, Askelson stepped to the microphone and thanked principal Steve Pomroy for putting on the event. He also took a moment to express appreciation to his fellow students.
“I’d just like to thank you guys for all your support,” he said. “We’ve heard all the stories about how crazy it was back here.”
McKenzie thanked teacher/student council adviser Casey Visser and the Student Council for sponsoring the event.
“And let’s just have some ice cream,” he said.
Students lined up to get ice-cream sandwiches. They also gathered around the players to ask for autographs on bits of paper — and in at least one case, on an arm.
The players arrived back in Billings on Sunday night, after being gone nearly a month to play in the Northwest Region tournament in San Bernardino, Calif., and the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Only since they arrived home to a crowd of people at the airport did the boys get an inkling of how big an impact they made on Billings and the state.
At the ice-cream social, Maehl said he got his first clue after he landed at the airport.
“We were driving around on Grand (Avenue) looking for a place to eat because my grandma didn’t really want to make food,” he said. “And we saw 10, maybe 15, signs saying ‘good luck’ and ‘congratulations Big Sky,’ so that was really cool.”
Askelson said it’s been a lot of fun to see all the support.
“We didn’t really know how big it is,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy that the whole state was rooting for us. It’s pretty cool.”
Jones said it was nice to know how much people cared about how well the team did. He also liked the fact that the games drew some additional fans.
“They sometimes don’t watch because they’re not into sports, but they knew we were playing, so they watched it,” he said.
Maehl said it’s nice to get back to a normal routine. This week is about getting into their classes and finding out their assignments.
“Next week will be a normal week, so it will be good,” he said.
Seventh-grader Alexis Laliberte just met Maehl, who is in seven of her classes. She said she’s impressed with all the players.
“They’re really cool and they’re really fun to hang out with, and they just did an amazing game,” Laliberte said. “I watched all of their games.”
She said meeting the boys was “like meeting a superstar.”
Her friend Grace Metropoulos, also a seventh-grader, has Leatherberry in a class.
“I think what they did is amazing, especially since they were from our town and we get to meet them now,” she said.
Teacher Eric Anderson, who has had most of the eighth-grade players in his classes last year, had praise for them.
“All the boys I know on that team are not hotheads that think they’re better than other kids,” Anderson said. “They’re just real good athletes and they’re well-rounded athletes.”
Pomroy said the players have discipline, dedication and integrity, both on the field and in school. He sees the All-Stars as role models for other students.
“They definitely have shown where hard work and dedication can pay off,” Pomroy said. “And other kids can see that and set goals for themselves.”