Seventh-graders Santi Alvarez and LJ Aponte are back in class after an amazing run to the Little League World Series this summer as members of the Elmora Troopers. 


By Gary Miller

When Louis Aponte and Santiago Alvarez returned to McManus Middle School this September, no one needed to ask them how they spent their summer. Their adventures were on TV for the whole world to see.

The two seventh-graders – better known to their family and friends as LJ and Santi – were members of the Elmora Troopers team from Elizabeth that made it all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. The team won the New Jersey state championship, then the Mid-Atlantic regional championship to earn the chance to go against the best teams from around the country.

“It was just so much fun to be able to go as far as we possibly could with some of the best friends we’ve ever had,” LJ said during a recent conversation at McManus. “We left it all out on the field. We reached the top of baseball for our age. We played as hard as we possible could and we made it as far as we could.”

MYCENTRALJERSEY: Elmora Troopers celebrated at Somerset Patriots game


Although the sporting world came to know the Elmora Troopers from Elizabeth, LJ and Santi were the only members of the team who are from Linden. And they carried that mantle with pride.

“Linden wasn’t getting much attention because most of the team is from Elizabeth,” Santi said. “But just to know deep inside that we were representing Linden was just amazing. We got to represent our hometown.”

vice principal posing with daughter and two little leaguers

McManus Middle School Vice Principal Wayne Happel and his daughter, Riley, get a quick visit with LJ Aponte and Santi Alvarez on their way to the field at the Little League World Series.

Linden fans were among six busloads of spectators that followed the team to the regional championship game in Bristol, CT. Other fans traveled to watch the team in Williamsport, including some McManus classmates, as well as Vice Principal Wayne Happel.

“It was so amazing that our vice principal came to watch our game,” Santi said.

Happel said he loved seeing the boys get the big-league treatment and that McManus couldn’t have asked for two better representatives.

“Santi and LJ are such wonderful representatives of what it means to be a student-athlete,” he said. “They excel in the classroom, on the field and all of their extracurricular activities. I am so proud of what they have accomplished and can’t wait to see the great things they do in the future!”

Since returning from their magical trip, the Troopers have gotten the celebrity treatment. They were given a welcome home rally and later a parade in Elizabeth; they went on the field before a Mets game at Citi Field; they were honored at a Somerset Patriots minor league game in Bridgewater.

two boys with two board members

LJ Aponte and Santi Alvarez being honored at the Sept. 26 Board of Education meeting by board member Patrick Gargano, left, and President Gregory R. Martucci.

LJ and Santi were honored by the Linden Board of Education at its Sept. 26 meeting and were given a rousing welcome at McManus on the first day of school.

“We walked into the auditorium and everyone was yelling ‘LJ! Santi!’” Santi said. “A bunch of kids came up to me and said, ‘We watched you on ESPN! Good job, you did great!’”

LJ added, “Everyone was saying, ‘Congratulations’ and ‘We’re so proud of you.’”

But they didn’t let it go to their heads.

“Then we went back to our day, going to classes and stuff,” LJ said.

When the boys were asked what their favorite subject is, LJ joked, “Does lunch count?” But then both said that they like history.

It’s a fitting answer for two boys who made a little history of their own this summer.

two boys smiling for camera in empty school auditorium