Mo’ne Davis obliges a Williamsport autograph hound.
By Mary Cunningham
The Taney Dragons, 12- and 13-year-olds from a neighborhood just west of Philly’s Fitler Square, is the first team from the city to reach the Little League World Series.
In only its second year of Little League play, Taney won the state championship (there are more than 300 Little League teams in Pennsylvania) and then took the Mid-Atlantic Regional Little League championship to advance to the Little League World Series, in which the Dragons will face the South Nashville Little Leaguers on today at 3 p.m. ET in Williamsport, Pa and on ESPN.
Fair or not, teams from inner cities are typically doubted, particularly when going against top competition from suburban areas, where teams typically have more resources, facilities and, in some instances, private trainers.
Which is why Taney stands out.
The Dragons practice on various fields all over Philly. Weather permitting, you can find them outdoors. During the winter months, the kids work on hitting and pitching mechanics indoors.
The Dragons have a connection with the Phillies, too. When these kids graduate from Little League, they will become involved in the Phillies RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. The Dragons will be members of the Phillies Urban Youth Academy when it opens.
Steve Bandura, a coach with Philly’s Department of Parks and Recreation, is the common denominator. There are 12 players on the Taney Dragons. Bandura has coached seven of them in baseball, basketball and soccer since they were 6 years old. He will continue to work with them in the Phillies RBI program.
“Steve has been giving kids in that neighborhood great instruction,” said Rob Holiday, Phillies director of amateur scouting administration, who has known Bandura since the 1990s. “He has set up all different types of programs for them to help them reach their potential both on and off the field.”
The group includes: Scott Bandura (Steve’s son), Carter Davis, Mo’ne Davis, Jahli Hendricks, Jack Rice (his father, Scott, coaches the Taney Dragons), Jared Sprague-Lott and Zion Spearman.
Mo’ne Davis is the star pitcher with a live fastball and off-speed pitches to go with it. She’s another great story on a team full of them. As a girl on the baseball diamond, Davis has earned national recognition.
“She’s just one of the players,” Bandura said. “She’s a news story to everyone outside of Philly, but she’s very well known in the city in all three sports. She’s just one of the players and that’s all she really wants to be. She’s extremely intelligent, and throwing 70 mph doesn’t hurt.”
When these kids aren’t playing for Taney, Bandura coaches them with the Anderson Monarchs Youth Baseball team from the Marian Anderson Recreation Center, which is located in the Graduate Hospital area.
“It’s a really, really intelligent group of kids that mentally are way ahead of their opponents,” Bandura said. “We like to say we play chess while the other teams play checkers.”
The Taney Dragons are ready for the bright lights of the Little League World Series, because they’ve played on the big stage before.
“These kids have had that opportunity to train year round,” Bandura explained. “We put our Anderson Monarchs team in the Tri-State Elite League. They play the best competition from New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They play 60-70 games a year against top-level competition. They play in top national tournaments. This is why they are so good.
“They don’t just play, they know how to compete.”