Brian Sipe was not only an All-Pro quarterback for the Cleveland Browns but also a member of the 1961 Little League World Series winning team from El Cajon, CA. He is currently the head football coach at Santa Fe Christian School in Southern California and we spoke with him to get his thoughts on winning the Little League World Series and the importance youth sports have on developing young people.
Can you tell us what it was like to win the the Little League World Series? The Little League World Series was such a treat. It's a slice of Americana you dont find anywhere else. That year we were undefeated. We won 13 straight games. And we won the final in the bottom of the last inning. With a walk-off home run by our big slugger Mike Salavatore.
Wow! You remember the name. Back in 1961 there weren't all the youth-sports options there are now. And clearly Little League was head and shoulders above everyone. And every kid knew about the Little League World Series. When we won it was just a dream for a kid at that age.
Have you been back at all since then? I've been back twice. I was fortunate enough to be inducted into the hall of fame. And also I was part of a 50-year celebration. But it's only because I was one of the few guys to go on and do something in professional sports--because I certainly didn't do anything in the series. (Laughs)
Did Little League have an impact on your development as an athlete? And as a person? It did. I think my story is a little bit unique because our team out of the clear blue won a world championship. And to be so young and have a pinnacle experience like that is amazing. I mean I'm an undersized guy and I'm not fast. But after winning that, not much else sort of surprised me in sports. I sort of expected to succeed. And I trace it all back to Little League.
What do you think it is that makes youth sport organizations like Little League so special? I think Little League is unique. I don't think it's about kids preparing for something later on. It's just about that game, that week, that year. And it's seasonal. I really appreciate that about Little League.
And the other thing I liked was it was about your neighborhood's talent and your neighborhood's team. Little League is the best your town has to offer. It's all local kids. In my day it was the most exciting thing that was happening in youth sports. And every kid proudly wore his Little League baseball cap to let the world know whose team they were on.
Were you sad to see the browns leave Cleveland? Yeah I think so. I don't know how to describe football in that part of the country. But in cities that are experiencing downtimes economically they respond to their football teams differently. They were passionate about them. But at least Cleveland was able to hold the NFL hostage and keep that team in escrow.
What was it like playing for the New Jersey generals in the USFL? Well it was a bit of a circus. Our owner was Donald Trump and everything he touches is a little bit bizarre. He's all about the promotion. We were actually a very talented team—with Herschel Walker and Maurice Carthon. We really had some talent on that team. I played with them for one year and we won 14 games—but it was a little bit like Monty Python's Flying Circus.
What do you think are the important values a coach should have when working with young people? I got this from Lou Holtz and my experience has confirmed it. Without a player being able to articulate this-- what a player wants out of a coach is three things: 1) To know he's committed to excellence 2) To know he can trust him and 3) To know that the coach cares about him. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that.
For more on the Little League World Series visit our Little League World Series special section.