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The Coaches of the Emmitsburg & Fairfield Little Leagues

Emma Haley
MSM Class of 2011

A Look Into the Lives of the Ones We Love So Much; the Ones We Call, "Coach."

Itís almost that time of the year when you can feel a change coming, when the grass starts getting greener and the days start getting longer. People open their windows to let in the warm flowing breeze and begin to shake off the cabin fever that has been holding them hostage for several cold, brutal months. Spring has arrived, and the most important thing that comes with the long awaited season is Americaís greatest pastime: baseball.

Itís always great when your favorite major league team hosts its home opener and the first pitch of the season is released from the mound. Sure watching your team of choice spring back into action in a packed stadium, with the lure of bright lights, giant score boards and thousands of screaming fans is thrilling on many levels, but Iíd like to argue that thereís nothing that compares to the game of Little League baseball played at an ever-familiar local field in the center of town. The kind of games where the first pitch is thrown by someone who isnít making millions of dollars, but by someone who probably had their mom pull their uniform from the dryer the morning of the game, and only has about a dollar and some spare change to spend on snacks after the game. Thatís the kind of baseball worth getting excited about.

Thankfully weíve got plenty to go around right here in our own area of Emmitsburg and Fairfield.

The area we are surrounded by is built upon hundreds of years of rich history. In the midst of the many historical aspects lies Little League baseball and softball.

Little League in the Emmitsburg and Fairfield area has been around for decades and serves an important role within the communities.

Baseball here is everywhere. To prove my point, take a look around. At almost every local business the walls are plastered with photos of young ball players dressed in their finest apparel taking their first swing at the ball or running down the first baseline. T-shirts with block letters displaying the team names are tacked up next to the shelves filled with gleaming trophies. The environment screams baseball, and so do the people who find themselves passing through these local businesses every day.

Among those who witness the thrill of Little League are a very exceptional group of individuals who are committed to making a difference in the lives of youth through their undeniable love of baseball, those who we all love to call ĎCoachí.

I was lucky enough to sit down with several of these dedicated coaches this past month in order to get to know them better and understand just why they do what they do. Although each coach was different from the next, I was not surprised to find that each of them shared the common love of the sport and the interest of helping the youth in the community.

Two individuals who embody this specific interest are, Chuck Whitworth, the President of Fairfield baseball and softball, and Jeff Little, President of Emmitsburg baseball and softball. Both men have been involved with the league for several years and although they are no longer coaches, they organize and administrate so that the coaches and officers can focus on taking care of their kids and teaching baseball and softball.

Some of the Emmitsburg Coaches
 Standing: Jeff Topper, Mark Lookingbill, Mark Spalding,
TJ Eiker, Shannon Cool, Jeremy Rosensteel, Carlton Mazaleski
Sitting: Tom Kelly, Rob Wease, Jimmy Pryor and Dave Wantz

Whitworth says, "itís just a way of giving something to the community. The coaches are the backbone of the organization and they really do a great job keeping up with the day-in and day-out needs of the league." He couldnít be more correct. Getting a chance to meet with our local heroes proved this to me, and this, after you read it, will hopefully prove it to you as well: just how lucky we are to have people like these coaches in our local community.

When we sat down, I asked each coach how long he or she had been coaching Little League. At first, I thought the consistent pause that followed my question was a nervousness of being interviewed- I was wrong. Most of the coaches paused, deep in thought, some counting on their hands, others gazing towards the ceiling. They were attempting to count up the correct number of years they had been coaching before being responding.

Dave Wantz, head of the Red Sox was one of those coaches who has been doing this so long that heís almost lost track. Coach Wantz started coaching when he was 21 years old and has been doing it for "18 or 19" years now. Growing up in the Emmitsburg area Dave played Little League for the Red Sox, but he wasnít the first of his family to play, or the last. Daveís father and son were members of the Red Sox Little League team. Dave described it as, "a family thing." Not everyone has been in the coaching business as long as Coach Wantz, but there are many generations of Little Leaguers that have come back to coach, just like their fathers before them.

Jim Swamm from Fairfield is heading into his first year coaching 10 and under softball. He too has a family connection to Little League, "My dad coached Little League, we had a lot of good memories and it was nice he found the time to do it. I remember him rushing home work to get ready to coachóhe always had time; playing baseball was a big bonding moment for us." Baseball continues to be a bonding moment for so many who have become involved with the sport. Surely the generations of coaches will continue to trickle down the family lines just like it has in the past.

Some of the Fairfield coaches
Dave Hazelett - Head Coach Yankees Instructional League, Bret Stadler - Vice President Instructional League, Mike Ball - Head Coach Reds, Instructional League, Ray Sachs - Head Coach Pony League 13 - 15, Chuck Clarke - Head Coach Orioles Major League, Lyle Pickett - Head Coach Angels Minor League, John Mezgar - Head Coach Phillies Minor League, Daryl Blickenstaff - Head Coach Tigers Minor League

Another generational coach, Daryl Bickenstaff, who currently coaches his son, remembers his Little League coach better than any coach he had after that. "My dad was my coach one year, and I donít really remember other coaches that I had. I just remember my dad being there at the games and practices. Itís just one of the strongest memories I have as a kid, I hope my son remembers that as well." Special memories of the coaches own days of playing Little League were strong in almost everyone I spoke with.

It makes sense then that players of any sport have those special moments in a game that still stand out to them today. Those moments when they scored the winning basket, threw a game-winning touchdown, or hit a walk-off homerun to win the championship game. Iím sure almost all players have those special times they can remember like yesterday but they arenít the only ones. Coaches, too, have moments they cherish; the moments that take them back to the game where they were proud to stand tall beside their team in the dugout. I especially enjoyed hearing about some of the particular moments coaches of Little League teams here in Emmitsburg and Fairfield County had to share.

Mark Spalding who coaches girlsí softball in Emmitsburg remembers a special moment that brought a smile to his face. "There was a little girl who came in, she never played ball before. She got up to bat and finally got her first hit, as she came running down the first base line she was crying! I asked her what was wrong. She looked at me and replied, ĎIím just really happy!í" Mr. Spalding explained the moment as "awesome" and continued to tell me about the young girlís new "diehard" love for the game of softball.

Coaching for three years in the instructional league for Fairfield, Andy Myers didnít have to think very long before he shared a similar favorite moment. "A little girl named Ruthie, who was five years old got a hit and made it all the way around the bases, scoring her first run. She did it one time all year; it was pretty amazing. Her parents were beaming and Ruthie was just beside herself!"

Seeing the players light up on the field after a big accomplishment is something these coaches live for. Itís also those really cute kids who walk up to you at the plate, tilt their head towards yours and say things like, "Coach, youíre the best ever." Lyle Pickett, head coach of the Angels 9-10 year olds in Fairfield named that special moment as one of his favorites. Pickett describes himself as an, "emotional leader who is always clapping and cheering because these kids feed off that." He grew up playing baseball but didnít expect to coach until someone approached him, telling him he had just what it takes to become a Little League coach. Besides recalling being Ďthe best everí, Pickett thoroughly enjoys the relationships he has developed with the players over the "three to four" years heís been a coach. "What really gets me going now, is when you walk into school and everyone will say HEY COACH! I really value that relationship I get with those kids, itís amazing."

Not all, but many of the coaches are parents of the players on the team, and their favorite moments revolve around seeing their own child succeed on the field, whether it be crushing their first homerun out of the park or catching the game-winning out.

A common trend that was expressed by almost all coaches was the joy and accomplishment of simply seeing players develop during the season.

Emmitsburg coach Jimmy Pryor has enjoyed helping his daughter and her teammate play over several years. He says that he take pleasure in watching the improvements that happen over the course of a season, "just being able to watch the girls go from knowing a little bit in the beginning of the year to the end of the year when they know what they are doing. Itís a good feeling to watch them mature as ball players."

Shannon Cool is in her second year of coaching girlsí eight and under softball. She doesnít have any children or siblings playing in the league, but she is as committed as the rest. A coach for the Angels (the same team she played for back in the day), she coaches because softball has always been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.

She and Carlton Mazaleski also from Emmitsburg agree that one of the greatest feelings is when a player, "just gets it." Coach Mazaleski explains, "When one kid hasnít been doing well or is struggling in some area of their game and they finally get a good hit or have a good catch, seeing the look on their faces is priceless. Itís not always the all-star or best player; itís usually when a kid whoís just average gets that good play. Thatís when it really is worth it." Mazaleski also enjoys watching the kids have fun on the field and in the dugout. He appreciates having their full attention while he coaches them, "There are lots of things they can get wrapped up in, and itís nice to see them come out and have an interest in something other than video games."

Unfortunately itís true; children today are consumed by video games, T.V shows, surfing the web, cell phones and anything that involves a plug or battery. One may wonder what happened to the days of playing outside until the street light came on, or creating pick-up games with all the kids in the neighborhood? Coach Mike Ball of Fairfield remembers those days. "I remember playing Little League myself. You thought about playing the game the whole day and you wore your uniform to school. If you had a 3:00 p.m. game, you put your uniform on at 10:00 a.m."

Coach Ball agrees with the common trend that in this day and age there are too many distractions. I was not surprised to find that almost every coach felt the same way. Each one expressed that although baseball has many important functions, the way it gets youth away from the "gadgets" that consume their time and energy on a regular basis is a major benefit.

Luckily, baseball is full of benefits, benefits for the coaches, players, and community. The biggest benefit isnít learning how to swing a bat correctly, or learning the hand signals dished out by the third base coach, the biggest benefit of baseball goes beyond the diamond and into life lessons themselves. Chuck Clark (who also lost track of the years heís devoted to Little League, and averaged between 12-15 years coaching), believes that, "sports provide life skills that children will use later in life, they also teach discipline and ethics that youngsters will be using when they are older."

Coach Mazaleski mentioned that he teaches his athletes to compete both on the field of baseball and the field of life, "If they make a mistake on the field, you learn from it and move on, just like you would in life, youíd move on and do your best." Coach Ball thinks, "physically baseball builds their coordination, but more importantly it teaches them the importance of being on a team, you will need to use that skill for the rest of your life. It also teaches them how to win and lose graciously, how to make a commitment to something, and teaches them the lesson that if they work hard they can see results. These are all things Iíve learned from baseball that have helped me in my schooling, my career and in my life."

It remains true then, baseball is more than a sport; itís a way to learn applicable skills for life. Along with these lessons are lessons on winning and losing. It seems that Little League baseball and softball is more than suiting up to mark a tally in the win column.

Coach Eric Roseinsteel said it best, "I always told my team it didnít matter if you win or lose, but itís probably going to be more fun if you win." Iíll agree with that statement. Sure, itís great to get a big ĎWí for the team morale, but like Coach Roseinstell says it doesnít matter if you win or lose, whatís most important is working hard, having no regrets and competing to the best of oneís ability.

Working hard is something coaches naturally expect from each player on their team, and is directly demonstrated in their own everyday actions through their outstanding dedication. To give you a rough estimate on just how dedicated these coaches really are, TJ Eiker, coach of his little brotherís team, says, "I added it up one year and it was almost 450 hours, but that was just practices, games, that kind of stuff." 450 hours on estimate, Iíd say thatís dedication. TJ went on to say, "Yeah, itís a lot of time but we have a lot of fun, and we have a great group of people who like to have fun and coach baseball."

Often times the dedication of coaching is spread across the field. I mean this in a literal sense, as Coach Clark often found himself going back and forth between coaching and umpiring when needed. He didnít expect to be rewarded for his generous volunteering. Although he did comment, "maybe youíd get a free drink and a pizza out of it, but just helping the leagues was worth it, itís not for the pay." He just did what I believe most of these coaches would do: want to make sure the kids could play the game everyone loves.

Not only do coaches spread themselves across wide ranges of positions and display commitment to their team, they play a massive role in the lives and spirit of the community. Major League Coach Daniel Miller understands the importance of baseball in the community, "You know what they say, Ďit takes a villageí, the best thing about coaching and having a league is that I know more kids now than I thought I would ever know. It really makes for a stronger community."

Coach Myers feels the same: "Playing baseball or softball brings people together. It builds character, teamwork, and camaraderie. Sports are things that build up young men and women." Myers continued, "people who participate in sports seem to be more connected with themselves and others." Connections with those in communities such as Emmitsburg and Fairfield are crucial for creating a positive environment. These positive connections stem from involvement both on and off the baseball field.

Coach Brian Devilbiss would like to encourage more involvement from people in the community because baseball in this area is growing and getting better every year. By getting involved Coach Devilbiss believes, "people would be surprised by the feeling they get from being involved. This program is really growing and getting better, a lot better than what it used to be and itís because we have all these dedicated people sitting in this room," Coach Devilbliss took a moment to point around the room from coach to coach nodding with great satisfaction as he spoke. I believe that both towns would agree that everyone is welcome to get involved in some way or another with Little League, and help in any form is always greatly appreciated.

Looking at the big picture, itís important to remember just who these extraordinary people are who stand behind the sport we love so much. These coaches are everyday town folks. They are the people who work in our local hospitals and schools, some are lawyers, some do construction, but no matter what career path they have chosen these coaches in our own local towns have dedicated a large portion of their life to something they love and value. They believe they have an obligation to the community and strive to fulfill their role as leaders and teachers, while not expecting anything in return. Understating the foundation of sport, specifically baseball, Coach Eiker says, "there is about 56 years of baseball tradition in Emmitsburg", pausing for a moment he then continued, "it just wouldnít be Emmitsburg without baseball!"

I think heís right, and I believe Fairfield feels the same way.

Thankfully, baseball season is almost here. Coaches in both Emmitsburg and Fairfield have been preparing for this day since the end of last season, but now that the days are getting longer and the weather warmer, it will only be a few short weeks until the words we love so much, "Lets play ball!" are echoed throughout the area. So please, remember when youíre at the next Little League game, take a moment to appreciate the wonderful things those people that these players call "coach" do.

And remember, coaching is just one of the many hats these involved individuals wear, but let me tell you after getting to know so many of them, I say they wear that hat pretty darn well!

Read other articles by Emma Haley

Emma is a Senior Communications Major at Mount St. Marys