Thirty students gazed at television sets in the library of Glenwood School, waiting in hushed excitement today for the final out that would make their team Little League national champions.
"This will show America we're not a redneck town anymore! We're a baseball town!" 13-year-old Jeffery Tinkler burst out.
Caleb Kinsaul quietly corrected his classmate.
"No, this will show that we're not 'Sin City' anymore," he said.
In a place long smeared by a historic reputation for vice, Phenix City is getting a new image, thanks to a band of boys whose surprise victory over the defending world champions delighted their home town of 25,000.
Phenix City beat Toms River (N.J.) East 3-2 today in the U.S. championship game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The team plays Osaka, Japan, in Saturday's final.
"These boys have brought the first positive attention, from a national spotlight, to Phenix City in my 25 years," said Bill Hayes, principal of Glenwood, a private school where five players are students and the coach, Tony Rasmus, used to teach chemistry.
"In my mind, the city's past was already wiped out, but this can wipe it out of everyone's minds," Hayes said.
In the early 1950s, Phenix City was rife with corruption, gambling and prostitution, catering to soldiers stationed just across the Chattahoochee River at Fort Benning, Ga.
Albert Patterson, the Democratic nominee for state attorney general in 1954, vowed to clean it up. But on a trip to Phenix City a few weeks later, he was shot to death in an alley.
The killing led Gov. Gordon Persons to declare martial law and prompted a series of investigations, trials and crackdowns that finally restored order.
Things have changed, but the history is too fresh to forget easily.
"We've had many positive things happen to Phenix City in the years since that time, but that time still lingers," said Howard Walker, who took over at Glenwood for Rasmus, who resigned in July. "But these boys can maybe give us something else to be known for."
It's a sensation familiar in Toms River, N.J., where there is still plenty of pride in a team that had been on a seemingly unstoppable run to another Little League World Series.
"They brought the whole town together for a second straight year," said Rich Greenberg, who joined fans to watch the game at Mugsy's Bar & Grill, the unofficial clubhouse for Toms River East supporters.
"It gives us a lot of pride when you have a good group of kids that accomplishes something positive," Greenberg said. "I don't think they realize the magnitude of what they accomplished, and they probably won't until they're older."
Thousands turned out for victory parades last year for the team nicknamed "The Beast from the East," and a welcome-home rally is being planned for Sunday.
Similar celebrations await the Phenix City team--regardless of how it does against Osaka--when it gets home Monday, starting with a limousine ride from the Atlanta airport and a party at the ballpark.
More than 2,000 fans went to the city's Amphitheater to watch the championship game Thursday night, before it was rained out and rescheduled for this morning.
"A lot of people called in sick today so they could watch the game," said Donna Ward, an employee at the parks and recreation department.
They're invited back to the Amphitheater for another party Monday.
From one end of town to the other, signs on roadsides, hotels and banks wish the team luck.
"Everyone has been behind this team for months," Hayes said. "Their win is our win."