The team from Wise did not fare too well, but the tournament trip became the start of one of Southwest Virginia’s most successful youth sports programs.
The Heaters program, which in the spring of 2012 began under the direction of Foster and Wilson, has produced youth baseball and softball teams that have combined to win nearly 1,000 games and almost 50 tournament titles.
The program hasn’t featured only 8-under baseball teams, however.
“Over the years we’ve had different age groups as parents have wanted to have their children play as part of the Heaters. And we added some softball programs in different years,” Wilson noted. “At one point we had six different teams, including baseball and softball teams.”
This year — just as in that initial season — the Heaters fielded one squad, an 11-under baseball team managed by Foster and Wilson. But the season had to be put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine orders.
“It’s really been disappointing,” Foster said.
The team had already started practice when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam closed all public schools across the commonwealth on March 13 because of the virus.
“We had a practice on March 11 and that was the last time we’ve all been together,” Foster said.
“We were scheduled to practice that Friday evening and we had a tournament the following weekend,” Wilson said. “But everything has been put on hold just like everything else.”
The Heaters organization grew out of a conversation Wilson had with a friend from Cincinnati in 2011.
“We actually met at a Reds game and he started talking about a tournament for travel teams that was coming up in Ohio,” Wilson recalled.
The Wise team traveled north for the tournament and returned home with a bruised ego.
“We got it handed to us pretty well,” Wilson said. “Kelly and I went up there and thought we knew a lot, but it was definitely a learning experience.”
Back in Wise County, Wilson and Foster discussed the tournament and how to develop a program for a successful traveling team.
“We just sort of bounced ideas off each other and we decided we were going to do it for the spring of 2012. And that was the beginning of the Heaters,” Foster said.
“Then all we had to do was to go get the kids to play and the parents to support it.”
The Heaters’ first spring had one team, an 8-under program that included Foster’s oldest son, Wilson’s oldest son and eight other players.
The next year, Foster’s son turned 9 and Wilson’s son was 8. The co-managers decided to develop their own teams — one 9-under squad and one 8-under group — playing under the Heaters logo.
Over the past nine seasons, the program has continued to grow and draw interest from youth players of all ages.
All of members of the original Heaters 8-under team are now playing baseball at the high school varsity level.