The qualification process for the Little League World Series begins in the months before the tournament, when each local Little League program puts together an all-star team within its league. That team goes on to compete in district, sectional and state tournaments, most of which are double-elimination. The state champions (each state sends two teams) go on to a regional competition, broken up into eight regions:
- New England (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT)
- Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA)
- Southeast (AL, FL, GA, NC, SC, TE, VA, WV)
- Great Lakes (IN, IL, KY, MI, OH, WI)
- Midwest (IA, KA, MN, MO, ND/SD, NE)
- Northwest (AK, ID, OR, MT, WA, WY)
- Southwest (AR, CO, LA, MI, NM, OK, East Texas, West Texas)
- West (AZ, Northern CA, Southern CA, HI, NV, UT)
Eight divisions also compete in the international bracket: Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Latin America, Japan, Asia-Pacific, Europe-Middle East-Africa and Trans-Atlantic. More than 7,000 teams -- 6,500 in the U.S. -- participate in the tournament, with 6,500 of them eliminated within the first three weeks.
The Little League World Series is contested by 16 teams: the eight winners of the regional tournaments and eight international champions. In 2010, the tournament was determined by double elimination for the first time. The two brackets (the U.S. and international brackets) are divided into two pools. The winner of each pool goes on to a single-elimination championship game within its bracket. Then the U.S. and international champions compete for the World Series title in the championship game.
Each team still will play at least three games -- the four teams that lose both games in their pool will play a consolation match against an international team that also dropped out in two games.
Before 2010, the World Series was conducted as a round-robin tournament -- the squads were divided into two brackets (the U.S. and international brackets), which then were divided into two four-team pools. Two teams from each pool advanced to a semifinal round, which then decided the teams that would play in a bracket championship game.
Players in the Little League World Series must be between the ages of 11 and 13. Players must provide birth certificates to show they are of age. In 2006, Little League International changed the birth-date cutoff -- the earliest date that players could turn 13 -- to May 1 from Aug. 1. That means that many of the players in the tournament, which takes place in late August, have already turned 13.
The only time a squad has had to forfeit a title for not meeting eligibility requirements was in 1992, when a squad from the Philippines forfeited its title for using players outside the designated area as well as using over-age players. In 2001, a much more high-profile forfeiture occurred when Danny Almonte, a pitcher from the Bronx, N.Y., team, was found to be 14 years old (his squad finished third but later gave up all its wins).
After that tournament, Little League International placed more stringent procedures on checking eligibility, particularly concerning birth certificate formats. That same year, Little League added a rule that a participant must be a citizen of the country he plays for -- although there are certain specifications that allow a participant living legally in another country to play. Often, teams in the international brackets come from military bases in that area.
Girls are allowed to participate in the Little League World Series, although there also is a separate softball World Series. Girls were not allowed to participate in Little League until 1974, when the rules were revised to allow inclusion. Little League's softball programs were created the same year. Victoria Roche was the first girl to play in a Little League World Series, in the 1984 competition for the Brussels (Belgium) international squad. The 2004 tournament marked the first time two girls played in the same World Series (it happened again in 2009).