SIOUX CITY | The road to Williamsport might just begin off South Lewis Boulevard.
For the fourth time ever, Sioux City is hosting the Iowa State Little League Tournament, which starts Saturday and ends with two championship games on Thursday -- one for 11-and-12-year-old division and another for the 9-10 age group.
The 11-12 champions advance to the Central Regional tournament on Aug. 2 in Indianapolis.
Win that, and it's every young boy’s dream: a trip to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
“I guarantee you it’s on all 12 of our kids’ minds,” said Jason Boever, the coach of the Sioux City Headid squad that qualified along with Sioux City Westside.
Each of the state's seven districts advances one team in each division, but Sioux City gets two in each for being the host town.
Headid and Westside will play a pool-play game Saturday night to determine the true district champion. Bracket play won't begin until Tuesday.
“If we don’t win, then hopefully it’s Westside,” Boever said. “As long as somebody from Sioux City does.”
Headid also qualified in the 9-10 age division, along with Sioux City Northwest.
To even make it this far is quite an accomplishment. Only eight Iowa teams in each age range do -- and they’re already All-Star squads to begin with.
For example, Headid represents an entire league of teams. After the season, the boys pick one “All-Star” team by voting on the best nine players. They move on to districts, along with a few more players selected by coaches.
Westside picks its team the same way, according to head coach Corey Dixon. His league draws players from more than just Iowa, though -- some come from Dakota Dunes and North Sioux City.
“Our kids also represent part of South Dakota,” he said. "The Dunes, North Sioux and Dakota Valley -- they’re kind of grandfathered into our league.”
Opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Strikers Complex, located on 4900 South Lewis Blvd. in Morningside.
Games will be played just down the road at Pulaski Park on No. 1 Little League Drive, which is visible from South Lewis.
No pets, no coolers and no smoking allowed -- but bring water, and plenty of it.
For the next week or so, the National Weather Service is calling for 100-degree highs under sunny skies.
That’s not the number Steve Wiederhold is worried about, however.
“The heat’s not as important as the pitching rules,” said the Northwest coach, who -- like every Little League coach -- must keep a strict pitch count on his players.
“The 100-degree weather is probably worse on mom and dad sitting out in the sun than it is on the kids,” Wiederhold said with a laugh. “The kids are out there messing around in this weather all the time, anyway.”
But the pitch count becomes the true chess match for coaches, who must decide if -- and when -- they’ll use their best arms.
Little League pitchers aren’t allowed more than 85 pitches in one game (75 for ages 9-10). And, once a Little Leaguer reaches 65 pitches, he can’t throw again for at least four days.
“It’s a balancing act,” Westside’s Dixon said. “You’ve got to be careful so you don’t use the wrong pitcher and shoot yourself in the foot.”
“Pitching’s the key,” added Wiederhold: “If you’ve got seven guys who can pitch, you should be OK.”
There have been two Sioux City state champions since the state Little League tournament began in 1956. Westside won it in 1983 and Morningside National in 1985.
Headid, however, won a 9-10 state title just three years ago. Boever coached on that team, too.
“My son was 9 -- he was on the team, and they won state down in Urbandale,” said Boever, who still coaches his son Jack and two other players from that team -- Colin Kasperbauer and Jacob Kirwan.
It was a thrill, Boever remembered. And that’s the whole point of Little League baseball.
“It’s about teaching kids fundamentals and trying to make them better,” he said. “And hopefully they’re having fun -- because that’s the whole idea behind it.”