The whooping and hollering began about 3:20 yesterday afternoon when the champs stepped through double glass doors and into the baggage claim area at Dulles International Airport.
The 12 girls of summer, members of the Little League Softball World Series 12-and-under championship team from McLean, looked a little stunned when they saw dozens of supporters with signs and balloons, as well as several television camera operators, waiting for them. The girls drew themselves into a tight gaggle and stood for a second, unsure of what to do. Then they unfurled their championship banner and posed for pictures. The celebration was on.
"It feels great," said Mandy Moll, an outfielder whom the other girls widely credit as being the funniest member of the all-star team, the one who keeps them loose.
Their victory Thursday night brought out the pride in McLean among residents who had no connection to the team beyond using the same post office.
"It's a huge thing for the community," said Chris Sowick, vice president of McLean Little League Softball. "McLean is not really a defined city or defined town, and there are very few things that can pull the community together. This is something that pulled everyone together."
Fans who did not make the trip to Portland, Ore., to watch the World Series in person were able to view the game on ESPN2. One fan, Ted Leonsis, a McLean resident who is also vice chairman of AOL and owner of the Washington Capitals, summed up the pride in an interview by e-mail.
"Lead new story in our little village :-)," he wrote. Leonsis, whose Capitals have not won an NHL championship, added: "Wow -- a champion in our midst. Our community is so proud of these young women and we look forward to welcoming them and celebrating their success in a big way at MCI Arena at a Caps game. The community will recognize their accomplishments in a very public fashion. We are all so proud of them."
This was the second straight year McLean went to the World Series. Last season, the team lost in the title game.
The only holdover from last year's all-star team, Jamie Bell, said she advised her teammates about what to expect at the World Series. She told them that all the teams would be very good and that they should not get down if they fall behind to another team, she said.
That was practical advice. But what did she tell them about the fun part of the trip? Jamie laughed. "I told them the field was built in the middle of a dairy farm and that they have really good ice cream."
The team stayed with families of Little League softball players in Portland. That was part of the emotional experience. Gary Bell, a team coach and Jamie's father, said that when the team left the Portland airport yesterday, the host parents and players were there to send them off. "We had girls crying and parents crying," he said.
His daughter also told her teammates how cool it was to stay with the families because "they ask you what you want to eat and then they go out to the store and get it for you."
The bench cheers, which are a huge part of the game, are creative and passionate and psych up the team. During their run to the championship, the McLean girls came up with one they used Thursday night.
"We lost to a team from Florida when we played down there," Mandy said, "and we thought we were going to have to play them again. So we said we were going to whup them next time we played them."
The McLean girls played them again and beat them. Out of that rivalry came a chant that Mandy said they used to get fired up in Portland: "Bring out the whupping sticks."
The whupping sticks came out early in Thursday's finals, when McLean scored three runs by capitalizing on four errors by the team from Orange, Conn.
Things got tight in the final inning, when McLean pitcher Jilly Falle got into a bases-loaded jam. Her teammates know that Jilly can get a little nervous, so the infielders, led by second baseman Alex Nihill, went to the mound to calm her.
Jamie retold the story yesterday: "Jilly was nervous. She was crying a little bit. We all just gave her encouragement and told her she could do it." When the girls are in a tight spot, they tell each other, "Suck it up." But Jilly does not like to hear that, so Jamie used another catchphrase: "Drop it like it's hot." "She kind of smiled," Jamie said.
And then Jilly got out of the inning. McLean won, 6-2, led by Jamie's two RBI.
The champions finished their interviews at the airport and went to collect their luggage. The celebration was underway. A picnic is planned for tomorrow afternoon in McLean.