The road to Williamsport begins with the selection of all-star teams by each league that is competing in the international tournament. Each league selects up to 14 players (who must be eleven or twelve year olds on May 1 of the tournament year) from the teams that compete in the league, and these players represent the league in tournament play. The leagues also select coaches and a manager for the all-star team. The method used to select players for their league's tournament team varies from league to league, and is typically determined by the local league's rules and bylaws.
Most tournaments use double-elimination or Olympic-style pool play formats for district tournament competition, though a few districts still use single-elimination tournaments to determine their champions.
In many large or geographically dispersed districts, teams first compete in area tournaments, which typically involve only 4 or 5 teams. The area tournament survivors would then compete for the district title. By Little League Baseball rules, area tournament losses are carried over to the district tournament in double-elimination events.
As with district tournaments, local preferences influence the tournament site and schedule. Some sectional tournaments are held at a single site, while others are held at sites within a single district or at the fields of the participating teams. Depending on the state, sectional tournaments use single-elimination, double-elimination, or round-robin formats. District losses do not carry over to the sectional tournament.
In most states with only a handful of districts, district champions proceed directly to the state tournament. States that use sectional tournaments include California (both Northern and Southern), Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas (both East and West).
52 U.S. teams advance beyond the state tournament level, including two California teams (separate champions for Northern and Southern California) two Texas teams (separate champions for Texas East and Texas West), and the champions from the District of Columbia. North and South Dakota crown a single champion for the district that spans the two states.
In Canada, district champions move on to provincial tournaments. These five tournaments determine five of the six teams that will compete in the Canadian Region tournament. Provincial tournaments are held to determine the champions of British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic Provinces (comprised of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, though not all of these provinces have leagues), and the Prairie Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).
Other countries determine their national champion in a tournament involving all of the country's district champions, or, in nations with fewer charters, in a national tournament involving all leagues. National champions in each country advance to region tournaments.
Two region tournaments are held in Bristol, Indianapolis, and San Bernardino, while Gulfport and Waco each host a single tournament. In each region tournament, preliminary round games determine two finalists who then meet in a winner-take-all championship game. For the past several years, ESPN and ESPN2 have offered live coverage of all U.S. region championship games.
The states competing in each of the eight U.S. regional tournaments are as follows:
Great Lakes Region (Indianapolis, Indiana) -- Champions from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Mid-Atlantic Region (Bristol, Connecticut) -- Champions from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Midwest Region (Indianapolis, Indiana) -- Champions from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North/South Dakota.
New England Region (Bristol, Connecticut) -- Champions from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Northwest Region (San Bernardino, California) -- Champions from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.
Southeast Region (Gulfport, Florida) -- Champions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Southwest Region (Waco, Texas) -- Champions from Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas East, and Texas West.
West Region (San Bernardino, California) -- Champions from Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Northern California, Southern California, and Utah.
The Canadian Region tournament rotates from site to site each year. The tournament typically moves from one province to another, and when it is scheduled to be in a particular province, interested leagues submit bids to host the tournament. The five survivors of provincial tournaments compete along with a host team in a six-team tournament. After round-robin and playoff games, the tournament winner advances to the Little League World Series as the Canadian champion.
Other region tournaments typically use a similar round-robin or pool format that is followed by playoff and championship games. Like Canada, Japan and Mexico send their national champion to the Little League World Series. The other six Little League World Series qualifiers are champions from the Asia-Pacific Region, the Caribbean Region, the European Region, the Latin American Region, and the Middle East-Africa (MEA) Region. The European and MEA regions replace the Transatlantic and EMEA regions beginning with the 2008 international tournament.
For more information on the Little League World Series, visit the official Little League Baseball web site.
Since 1992, the Little League World Series has used an Olympic-style, pool play format. Teams are divided into four pools, two of which will contain U.S. teams, and two of which consist of international teams. Teams in each pool play a round-robin schedule that guarantees each team three games. The top two teams in each pool advance to a single-elimination phase of the tournament, with U.S. teams on one side of the bracket and international teams on the other side. The two U.S. quarterfinal winners then meet for the U.S. title and the two international survivors face off in the international championship game. The two survivors then meet in a nationally-televised, prime time championship game.
The entire tournament process involves over 37,000 games played worldwide, with the vast majority of games being played over an eight week timespan. By contrast, there are only 2,430 games played over the course of a 162-game major league baseball season.
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