A huge community win still sweet as ever 20 years later
Story by Tim Wood
For one eight-week run in 2001, a group of 9-and 10-year-old Hilton Head Island teammates were athletically invincible.
A banner still hangs on the baseball field backstop at The Crossings park honoring the 2001 Triple-A All Stars and their Dixie Youth World Series victory. As the group celebrates a milestone anniversary two decades later, many long-time youth sports observers count the squad as the greatest collection of teammates in Lowcountry sports history.
Their coach and biggest booster, Col. John Parker, isn’t about to argue with the praise.
“You have a bunch of kids who went on to big-time high school and collegiate success, but more than that, these kids battled so hard, every one of them put team first and represented the community so well,” said Parker, a long-time Marine who had coached in the Corps, but was in his infancy of coaching pre-teen ballers when he took the All-Star post alongside assistant coaches David Lancaster, Jamie Harrison and Dr. Michael Campbell. “To see them give for each other, to be so exuberant and hit such highs, it was a truly treasured time.”
The team’s stats were impressive. Their top six hitters all clubbed over-the-fence homers. The team committed no errors throughout their run and set a record for walks at the World Series. Twelve of the 13 kids went on to earn college degrees. But more than the numbers, the team’s stars say it was a moment in time when nothing else mattered besides playing for their teammates. The world was literally changing around them – the introduction of iTunes started a tech revolution, the first Harry Potter movie was all their friends were talking about, and months later, the Sept. 11 tragedy would alter our daily lives forever.
But for two months on a diamond, 13 kids got to make a region proud by simply being the best version of themselves.
“It was just so special. Being on the road, all the fun off the field. But this team was stacked. On the field, we were all business. Everyone knew the piece they contributed to the puzzle,” said team member Kenny Robinson, the speedster of the team who went on to play defensive back for Gamecocks football team, part of three 11-win seasons and Outback Bowl champs while earning a civil engineering degree from the University of South Carolina.
“The structure Coach Colonel gave us, I’d never worked so hard before for anything. And it got me ready for the grind ahead if I wanted to be an elite athlete,” said Robinson, who lives in Charleston with his wife and two daughters. “Up and down that lineup, I had teammates pushing me. Ian Anderson with his incredible power. Rachel Uremovich, she was a force of nature. And even with all the pressure to represent Hilton Head, we had fun. I remember walking in to this huge Radisson at the Series in Virginia, all our eyes were so wide. This was the big time for us kids.”
The team was undefeated through local tourney play before an early hiccup in the district tourney, losing once before beating Mount Pleasant, 13-12, in the final. The crew breezed through the state tourney to earn their trip to Bedford, Va. The games were broadcast on Hargray; the Packet covered the team like a Major League beat.
“We actually lost the first game of the tourney; I remember that. There was a lot of pressure building up, and I think it got to us for a minute,” said Anderson, who as the younger brother of an Under Armour All-American baseball star knew a bit about pressure. Coach Colonel, he was incredible. Our parents were incredible, all of them basically gave up a summer to let us live this journey. But Coach, his tough-love approach, it wouldn’t fly in today’s world, but for that group, we needed the discipline and the focus and that kick in the pants to just play for each other, block everything else out.”
Parker said that post-game meeting underneath a shady tree at their Lynchburg, Va., hotel was his favorite memory of the run.
“The kids were so down. We just talked about losing, how real character is on display when something bad happens.” Parker said. “They were so expressive, a flip switched with all of them. Their reaction was, ‘We have that character and we’re coming back from this.’”
Parker became an all-star coaching fixture, winning six of seven district titles during his tenure. But this team was destined for more.
They rebounded to win three games in a row, setting up three teams with one loss. A coin flip determined South Carolina would play Georgia in a semifinal (they won, 3-1) before playing Alabama.
“We were down 5-4 heading into the last inning, our last at-bat. We load the bases, Ian Anderson hits a line drive off the pitcher’s glove, it rolls in to left field,” Parker said. How it played out from there, it was just a movie moment.”
Pinch runner Robinson jogged home and turned to watch Michael Campbell rounding third base as the shortstop retrieved the ball and threw a perfect strike home. Campbell dropped into a textbook slide, evaded the catcher’s tag to score what would be the winning run.
“Watching Michael, it was just incredible. We still had to get them out in the bottom of the inning but to come back like that, we knew we had it,” Robinson said.
“That feeling, it’s indescribable, still gives me goose bumps today just talking about this team,” said Uremovich, a star pitcher for the team who became the first girl to ever play at the Dixie Youth World Series. “I close my eyes and I can still hear Kenny’s Dad, Big Kenny, cheering for us in the stands. Representing women like that, it was an honor. But I’ve never had more fun working so hard with a team like that. It set me up so much to know what it meant to earn success.”
The team bore many star high school athletes. Uremovich went on to a storied high school and collegiate golf career. Greg Harrison went on to play baseball for USC before a knee injury ended his playing days. Anderson, now a successful contractor on the island, stopped playing baseball a year later and turned to football, playing big-time SEC ball for Kentucky and later for the Gamecocks.
Most of the parents of the team still live local. Many players still talk on the phone often. Those who came back to town after college like Anderson and optometrist Michael Campbell still get together – the pair recently played golf with Harrison when he was visiting from Atlanta.
“Those bonds, that’s lifetime stuff. We’re spread out, an in-person reunion is tough right now, but I know it would take about four seconds when we see each other to transport back to 2001 and start laughing,” Robinson said. “It was just that special.”
ALL GROWN UP Rachel Uremovich today. Dylan Taylor with son Lucas, daughter Audrey, newborn Ansley and wife Jennifer. Kenny Robinson with wife Amber and oldest daughter Blakelee. Ian Anderson with his dog, Callie.
P/C Ian Anderson: Mom is a realtor, was the giant of the team at 5-foot-7 as a 10-year-old. Owns house in Sea Pines, VP for Southern Coastal Homes. CF/P Michael Campbell: Junkball pitcher won crucial losers bracket playback game for the All-Stars. Now an optometrist living in Bluffton. IF JaQuan Cohen: Lives locally on the island, works for A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant. Dad owns Cohen Barbershop. SS/P Greg Harrison: “Best baseball player I ever coached,” said coach Col. John Parker. Finished college at Furman. Lives and works in Atlanta. OF Alex Hill: Currently attending nursing school in Greenville. 2B Josh Lancaster: Lives in Wyoming; works as a Christian youth mentor. LF/RF Corey MacDonald: Son of local real estate agent Richard MacDonald; works in Atlanta. 3B Creighton Quinn: Lives in Denver, Colo. UTIL Kenny Robinson: The self-described “baby of the bunch” as the team’s lone 9-year-old; now civil engineer in Charleston, married with two daughters. OF Dylan Rosser: Lives locally, mom owns store down near Sea Pines Circle. UTIL/C Jeremey Sorensen: Owns a power wash company locally, still hangs out with Anderson and Rosser. 1B “Big Dog” Dylan Taylor: Fire chief in Bluffton, married with three kids. OF/P Rachel Uremovich: Lives in Boston with wife Leigh; executive for ABC Supply Company.