Since the 1860s, baseball has been played on fields across the country, making it one of the most popular sports in our nation’s history. Despite its more than 150 year history, baseball for younger players was less common and largely unregulated until the founding of Little League Baseball and Softball in 1939. Even then, it took several years for the concept to truly take off.  In 1950, a team of all-stars from Westerly advanced all the way to the Little League World Series, a tournament that today is an international event which draws viewers from across the globe.
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The first Little League World Series (originally known as the National Little League Tournament) was held in 1947 and was played amongst the nation’s seventeen known Little League teams (sixteen of which were in Pennsylvania and one from New Jersey). Ever since the very first tournament, games have always been held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
By 1950, Little League was beginning to expand across the country. Despite the game’s growing popularity, there were only two leagues in Rhode Island at the time, one in Westerly and one in Wakefield. For this reason, Westerly has the distinction of being the first town in Rhode Island to send a team to the Little League World Series.  Rhode Island has since sent seven additional teams to the series, although after 1950, the next would not be until 1980. 
During the 1950 Season of the Westerly Little League, players were required to be between the ages of eight and twelve. The League was composed of four sponsored teams: The Elks (the eventual League Champions), the Sportsmen’s Club, the Red Fox Beverage Company team, and the Ashaway Line and Twine team.
Each team had their own uniforms and were supported by a farm team from which they could call reserves when needed. Games were played on a field 2/3 the size of a regulation field constructed at the Westerly High School athletic complex, where they often drew crowds of more than 500 spectators. Players were sometimes traded between the four teams. The first trade of the season took place on June 20, when the Sportsmen’s Club traded their pitcher with a 3-0 record to the Red Fox team for a power-hitting outfielder and reserve infielder.
While the Westerly Little League had many tremendous players during the course of the 1950 season, including Walter Brown of the Red Fox team who batted .418 and Richard “Dickie” Chipperfield of the Sportsmen’s Club, who hit .365, the League’s uncrowned Most Valuable Player was undoubtedly pitcher Johnny Garafolo of the Elks, who compiled a record of nine wins to zero losses. Throughout the year, Garafolo contributed significantly to his team’s offense, clubbing home runs on a regular basis. Due in large part to his skillful play, Garafolo’s Elks team was eventually named League Champions.
At the conclusion of the regular season, the league’s best players were named to an All-Star team, coached by Vero Morrone and Hank Manfredi, which would represent Rhode Island in the New England regional championship tournament. In order to fund their trip to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to participate in the tournament the team held a highly successful tag sale, raising $1,537.81 to cover the cost of the trip.
As the regular season drew to a close, the Westerly team traveled to Wakefield to take on the only other Little League team in Rhode Island, the Wakefield All-Stars. Westerly won the game, 12-3, capping off their three-game sweep of Wakefield on the season.
After this tune-up game, the boys headed off to Pittsfield, where they would face the best competition in the entire New England region. On August 11, Johnny Garafolo faced off against the Concord (NH) Braves in the opening round of the tournament. Garafolo pitched well through the first two innings, allowing only one run. Westerly quickly got out to a 5-1 lead after two innings, and coaches Vero Morrone and Hank Manfredi made the decision to move Garafolo to the outfield and brought in Charlie Sposato to pitch.
Unfortunately, Sposato struggled, allowing three runs in the third inning and putting the tying runner on base before the coaches reversed their decision and put Garafolo back on the mound. The young ace proceeded to shut the Braves down, halting their rally. In addition to his stellar pitching, Garafolo also contributed two hits and scored a run in Westerly’s 5-4 victory.
The next day, Westerly faced off against the host team, the Pittsfield All-Stars. The winner of this game would advance to the Northeastern United States tournament for the right to play in the Little League World Series. After his near complete game the night before, Johnny Garafolo was given the task of patrolling centerfield while Bobby Payne took the mound for Westerly. In front of approximately 1,500 fans, including Westerly Town Council President Forgner Smith and more than 100 others who came from Rhode Island, Westerly trounced the hometown Pittsfield team, 10-2. 
Bobby Payne pitched a gem in the championship game, striking out four while only giving up a run in the first and last frames. The second inning put Westerly in a position to win early on when they scored seven runs. In that inning, Johnny Garafolo clubbed a two-run home run and Bobby Payne followed that up with a home run of his own on the very next pitch.
By the time the game came to a close, Westerly had used all 14 players on their roster. After the game, all players in the tournament were treated to dinner at the New Berkshire Restaurant. The Westerly boys then made their way home, where they received an enthusiastic welcome from many who had listened to the game called by Art Borgis and broadcasted on radio station WERI, Westerly.
Six days after their New England championship victory, the Westerly All-Stars were off to Schenectady, New York, where they were set to face off against Wellsville. Initially, Westerly was scheduled to play the team from Port Chester, the New York State Champions, but a polio epidemic led Westchester County Commissioner William A. Holla to cancel the team’s trip to the tournament. As a result, Westerly instead faced second-place Wellsville. The two champions clashed in a best of three series, with the winner moving on to Williamsport.
On August 18, Westerly and Wellsville squared for their first game in the pouring rain. Once again, Johnny Garafolo played the role of hero for Westerly. The left-hander pitched masterfully, striking out seven batters in a weather-shortened five-inning game. Coming into the third inning, Westerly was down 1-0 before they scored three runs on home runs by Roy Bailey and Johnny Garafolo. They then added five more runs in the fifth inning, putting the game away for good before it was called at the end of that inning with Westerly ahead, 10-2.
The next day, the two teams were prepared to meet in the second game, however, it was postponed until the following day due to more rain in the area. When the time came for Westerly to face Wellsville in game two, the boys from Rhode Island were more than ready. As was the theme throughout the post-season, Johnny Garafolo once again came through for Westerly, turning in perhaps his best performance of the season in front of 2,000 spectators.
He tossed a one-hit shutout, striking out twelve batters in six innings to shut the door on the series and end Wellsville’s dreams of playing in the Little League World Series. Not only did the lefty completely shut down his opponents on the mound, he also provided an offensive spark, driving in four runs on a single and a home run. Between the two games against Wellsville, Garafolo struck out 19 batters in 11 innings. With that victory, the team punched their ticket to Williamsport, leading the Westerly Sun to refer to the team as the “Cinderella Club” of the Little League World Series.
Unfortunately for Westerly, the clock struck midnight just as the World Series began. On August 24, they opened up the tournament against a strong team from Houston, Texas in front of 6,000 fans. Despite putting on multiple displays of offensive firepower on their road to Williamsport, the Westerly All-Stars could not get it going against the Texans. In their only game in the 1950 Little League World Series, Westerly failed to collect a single hit, and only one batter reached base when Charlie Sposato walked in the fifth inning. 
The team became one of many in a long line of victims of Houston’s Billy Martin. Westerly struck out 14 times in the game and became the second consecutive team to be no-hit by Martin. The no-hitter was nearly broken up when Dickie Chipperfield dropped a bunt down the first base line, but he was ruled out by the first base umpire.
The game also marked the only loss for Johnny Garafolo over the course of the entire 1950 season. Garafolo gave up five hits in total, while his teammates committed four errors in the game, a surprising result, given that the team had played fantastically defense on their journey to Williamsport. One small consolation for the Westerly boys is that the Houston team they fell to were later crowned World Champions upon defeating Bridgeport (CT), 2-1.
While the end of their season arrived earlier than they had hoped, the Westerly boys were still able to return home with their heads held high, as they had gone further than so many other teams in America that season.
On August 30, four days after Houston was crowned the World Series champions in Williamsport, 118 Westerly Little League players were celebrated with a day-long event. The boys were taken to Legion Town camp in Charlestown, where they swam and played baseball, volleyball, and other sports. That evening, John Gentile, the exalted ruler of the Westerly Elks Lodge, was presented with a trophy on behalf of the league-winning Elks team, lead by Johnny Garafolo. All players, coaches, and umpires for the league were presented with special pins commemorating their successful season.
The following season, Westerly proved that their success was not a fluke when they defeated the Bristol Little League All-Star team 1-0 to win the Rhode Island State Championship. Unfortunately, the pint-sized players were unable to replicate their success from 1950, and although they advanced to the regional championship tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, they did not secure a bid to the World Series.
While the 1950 All-Star team had several standout players, it was clear from the very beginning that the team was driven by the play of Johnny Garafolo. In 1956, he was selected as captain of the Westerly High School baseball team and upon graduation, he attended the University of Rhode Island, where he played baseball and basketball. Garafolo was highly touted as a college baseball player and as a result, in 1958, he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves organization.
He played for five different teams between 1958 and 1962, and in those five seasons, he batted .285 with 23 home runs while driving in 194 runs. Garafolo reached his highest level in 1961 when he was promoted to the AA Austin (TX) Senators for eleven games. Ironically, that same season, he also played twenty-one games for the Wellsville (NY) Braves, playing in the same city Westerly defeated to advance to the Little League World Series eleven years earlier. After retiring from baseball, Garafolo worked as a teacher, first in Washington State, and later in Rhode Island, including a stint as a teacher at Westerly High School.
Since 1950, Rhode Island has sent a representative to the Little League World Series eight times, most recently in 2018 when the Coventry Little League All-Stars won a trip to Williamsport. In 1996, the Cranston Western team advanced all the way to the Championship game, where they were defeated by Fu-Shing Little League of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 13-3. Although they did not win a game in Williamsport, the 1950 Westerly Little League All-Stars will always have the distinction of being the very first to represent the Ocean State on the grand stage.