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Legion Team Honored in 2002, Dissolved in 2006 (Part 5)

August 11, 2012

The 2002 Bryan Packers got together one last time as a team. 
In October of that year, the Packers were invited as guests of the American Legion to watch the first two games of the Major League World Series at International Field of Anaheim in California. 
Charlie Sheen, Danny Devito, Denise Richards and Kobe Bryant were also in the stands in Anaheim.
The team was introduced and walked out on the field before watching San Francisco take the opening game 4-3 in a defensive struggle. Reggie Sanders and Barry Bonds hit homeruns for the Giants, while eventual MVP Troy Glaus hit a pair for the Angels.
The second game was a slugfest.
Bonds, in the only World Series of his career, hit a monster homerun into the bay in the ninth with two outs.
It would not be enough and the Angels took the second game 11-10.
The Angels would eventually take the Series in six games, winning the final two games at home 6-5 and 4-1.
In December, the team, along with Coach Frank Portera, was named grand marshall of the West Point Christmas parade.
WCBI named the Packers' championship “Sports Story of the Year” in the state.
The Tupelo 49er’s won the state tournament in 2003.
The Bryan Packers would not win the state tourney again.
In 2006, Portera went to the superintendent’s office to ask permission to use West Point High School’s Earl Williams Taylor Field.
He was denied.
“It was a board decision,” then assistant superintendent Steve Montgomery said. “There were some questions about field availability and scheduling conflicts. The school had some summer leagues and some local teams playing in the area.
“I don’t think it was ‘You can’t use the field,’ it was more like there were these summer leagues and the school was gonna have these practices.”
The minutes from the school board meeting are unavailable.

In June of 2006, Sara Lee, the company that owned Bryan and sponsored the West Point based team, announced it would begin transferring jobs to other company facilities.
By December of that year, 400 employees had been laid off.
In January, 2007, Sara Lee announced it would cease all operations in West Point in March.
Sarah Matheu, a public relations rep with Sara Lee at the time told the Daily Times Leader on March 29 “We have been unable to (sell the facility) despite exhaustive efforts to work with potential buyers.”
There was still hope at the time the facility would be sold and used again.

There’s a sign behind Earl Williams Taylor field at West Point High School that matches a trophy that rests on a filing cabinet in an office in downtown West Point.
They both match a cluster of empty buildings on Churchill Road.
West Point has changed.
The Boys of Summer, 2002 have grown into men. They have wives, children, mortgages, full time jobs…
Of the 18 members of the team, only Tyler Bratton still works with baseball, serving as Director of Operations with the Mississippi State baseball team.
Despite the fact that the state of Mississippi owns very few national championships-East Mississippi did win the national title in community college football last season-and have no undisputed national champions in any "major" college sports, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is not interested in a display for the American Legion World Series team.

In 2002, when the Packers won the American Legion World Series, there were 51 teams in the state. The following year, there were 31. That number has been in steady decline ever since.
This year, there were nine.
By comparison, this season saw Alaska field 22 Legion teams. Rhode Island had 31. Alabama had 78.

Former Major League Baseball commissioner Bartlett Giamatti once wrote in his essay “The Green Fields of the Mind” “(Baseball) breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
In the case of Frank Portera, it’s true.
“I don’t mind telling you I was heart-broken,” Portera said. “But I’m not mad. I had a good run. We were the first team from Mississippi to win the Legion World Series. We always will be. They can’t take that away from us.”

Corey Carter played baseball at Shelton State in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Josh Johnson played four years at Mississippi State and was drafted in the sixteenth round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Johnson pitched in the minor leagues for two years before finishing in AA.
Dave Nanney went to East Mississippi before transferring to Montevallo University.
Brandon McGarity played four years at West Alabama.
Lance Martin played at Arkansas State.
Rod Williams played at East Mississippi and Mississippi Valley State, as did Chris Stamps.
Tyler Hunter and Scottie Jacobs played at Meridian Community College.
Joby Garner played at Southwest Tennessee Community College before transferring to East Mississippi.
Jeff Schafer played at ICC and the University of North Alabama.
Brent Patton played at ICC.
Russell Bourland played at Northeast Miss. Community College before transferring to East Mississippi.
Tyler Bratton played at East Mississippi and Mississippi State.
Caleb Robertson and John Raymond Pitre both attended Southern Miss.
Frank Portera never coached again.

This series has taken a lot of work by a lot of people to complete and, at the risk of sounding corny, I'd like to thank a few of them. First off, former DTL editor Brandon Walker (now at the North Florida Daily News) for approving it in the first place. Bryan Davis, the current DTL editor who has put as much hard work into this as I have. Adam Fels supplied me with some information that I couldn't find on my own. Kandiace Gray, who read over each article, critiquing, editing and improving every one. Danny Smith and Jarrod McDaniel, former sports editors at the DTL whose articles were a tremendous help in researching this and who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to me.
Former players Russell Bourland, Drew Jaudon, Josh Johnson, Brandon McGarity and Rod Williams who took the time to talk to be interviewed about things that happened 10 years ago; and especially to McGarity for bringing articles he had collected about the team during the regional and world series tournaments.
Also, I'd like to thank former Assistant Superintendent Steve Montgomery for talking to me about the school board decision in 2006.
Mostly, I'd like to thank Frank Portera. Portera not only was the driving force behind the Bryan Packers and American Legion baseball in West Point, he was also the driving force behind these articles. His time was always limited, but he was always generous with it.
If you have enjoyed these articles, it is because so many people were generous with time and effort to help get them out there. If there have been errors or awkward sentences or misspellings, the fault is all mine.
As far as that team, they're not completely done yet. Many of them recall their championship run as "the best two weeks of my life.” They have a reunion planned for October.

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