There cannot be a Junior Sunbelt Classic without host families and volunteers.
The 2019 installment is set for June 7-12 at McAlester's Mike Deak Field and Eastern Oklahoma State College. Families tend to welcome at least two players into their homes during this time and oversee care for them during a span of 10 games.
Hosts will spend hundreds of dollars in groceries, they cook for the players, they do their laundry, they transport them to their games, and they bond with them.
Hosting for the first time doesn't come without nerves for some, but most families continue do so for years.
“You’re anxious your first time,” said Brian Lott, a member of the Booster Club in McAlester and a host parent for Oklahoma Gold this year. “You don’t really know what to expect, and it’s really rewarding. The kids are great, and just the relationships and the bonds that you build just make it well worth it.”
McAlester Dugout Club President Loan Dollins said he is part of a good core group on Team Mississippi. He said the group has been hosting Mississippi players for several years and bonded during that time.
Cory Bass, the vice president of the McAlester Dugout Club, is also a Team Mississippi host and said host families bond with their players in their short time in the area.
The three hosts said the players are all respectful and well-mannered every year. Bass added the relationships the host families and players build do not end after Sunbelt.
"It might cost a little bit, but ultimately, the life lessons that my kids see in these others kids is far more valuable," Bass said.
Host families help make the Junior Sunbelt Classic possible each year — as do several volunteers.
Dollins estimated hundreds of volunteers help make the Sunbelt work. They will engage in a host of duties, such as working the concession stands, the field gates, serving food to players on a nightly basis, and driving buses from McAlester to Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton.
Dollins is the team captain for Team Mississippi and tends to host a team party for all of the players during the event, which he said is usually on Monday night.
He said he takes the players he hosts, and treats them like they're his own.
"It's the most awesome experience that you can do for somebody else that you don't even know," he said.
Contact Corey Stolzenbach at email@example.com