The Anderson Monarchs achieved notoriety last year when seven players — including 2014 SportsKid of the Year Mo'ne Davis — were part of the Taney Dragons all-star team that advanced to the Little League World Series. This summer they took their act on the road. For 23 days the Monarchs traveled around the country on a barnstorming tour. They played games against local teams and visited several major league and minor league parks. But baseball wasn't the main purpose of the trip. The kids were on the road to learn, so when they weren't in their bus or on the field, they could often be found visiting civil rights landmarks.
The tour was the idea of the coach, Steve Bandura. In 1993, Bandura, who works for the Philadelphia Parks Department, started a tee-ball league in South Philadelphia that was comprised primarily of African-American kids. He named the league after Jackie Robinson, the first black major league player, and all of the teams were named after those from the Negro leagues. "I was bringing baseball back to this neighborhood where it hadn't been for 20 years," says Bandura, whose son, Scott, is the Monarchs' catcher. "I wanted to connect the kids and their families to the history." To learn more about Robinson, the players had to do book reports on a biography of the Hall of Famer.
In '95, Bandura started a travel team, the Monarchs, made up of kids from the league. Every two years he assembles a new group, and they play baseball, basketball, and soccer together year-round. So the 14-year-old Monarchs who toured the U.S. this summer have been playing together since they were seven. To prepare for their trip, they met every Friday night for six months to watch documentaries about the civil rights movement. Once they hit the road, their stops included Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the site of a 1965 march, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Atlanta.
The players' wheels for the trip was an authentic 1947 Flxible Clipper bus. When they were on it, they had to live by 1947 rules — no air conditioning, no mobile phones, no MP3 players. Why 1947? That was the year Robinson broke baseball's color line.
Click the image below to check out a slideshow of some of the biggest stops on the Monarchs' roadtrip!
Photos: Al Tielmans for Sports Illustrated