The Pine Bluff Northern Rough Riders will host the Cal Ripken 10u District Tournament starting today at Townsend Park.
The District Tournament will feature a pool of six teams, including Bryant, Benton, Cedar Mountain, Hot Springs Co. and Arkadelphia. It's a double elimination-style tournament that could last through Monday if necessary. The top two teams will advance to the State Tournament in Stuttgart beginning on June 28.
Rough Riders Coach Cameo Stokes not only has his eye on the state championship but also the ultimate goal of playing in the 10u World Series.
Last year as a 9u team, Pine Bluff Northern won the USSSA state championship, and this is the same group of kids with a couple of add-ons.
"Being around this group is actually exciting," Stokes said. "My goal is to win district, state, regional and then advance to the 10-year-old World Series in Benison, Indiana. They're fundamental, they're athletic, and they have a great sense of humor. We have a great coaching staff that backs the team up from every angle, and we get support from the community. I've had this group since they were 6 years old, and we were the first tee ball team to advance to the state championship out of Pine Bluff, and I knew then we had something special."
Stokes refers to this group of kids as the future of baseball in the city of Pine Bluff. He said the group is aware of the rich tradition that the city has when it comes to baseball, and the kids get inspired by seeing other guys who have made it out of the city by playing the game.
"We've played some of the best teams around the country," Stokes said. "We see a lot of the potential based on the local talent that we've produced in the past. Guys who have come up in Pine Bluff playing baseball are getting drafted and getting college offers. These guys feed off of that."
A majority of the other five teams that will compete in this District Tournament are teams that Pine Bluff Northern has been competing against since tee-ball days. Stokes knows that they'll face some talented teams, but he feels like they're the creme of the crop.
"We're looking forward to competing against the best teams around the state," Stokes said. "We're familiar with one another from playing each other since we were six years old. They bring in good teams, but we understand that Pine Bluff has a great baseball lineage, and we feel like we're a force to be reckoning with."
Games will begin with Hot Springs Co. playing Arkadelphia at 6 p.m., today, and Pine Bluff Northern will take on Cedar Mountain after the conclusion of the first game. Both Bryant and Benton received byes in the first round by a drawing from a hat, and Pine Bluff Northern wasn't eligible for the bye since they're the host team.
Stokes gave thanks to his coaching staff, the administrators that helped Pine Bluff Northern become the host, and the parents of the kids.
"I have a coaching staff that's been great and they see things that I don't see," Stokes said. "Every last one of them brings something different to the table. I want to thank the parents as well. Also the commissioner Albert King, Sylvester Stargell and Larry Matthews Sr. for help bringing this district tournament to Pine Bluff."