The Afterglow

Well, mission completed.  Friday night, with about 200 fans in attendance, the Hale-Ray softball team won the state title.  They didn’t just beat Terryville, they flat-out dominated all aspects of the game.  Even our fans were better. 

That was the final out of the game.  Our pitcher held them to one hit.  They made four errors and about three other misplays.  Our girls rose to the moment, theirs let the moment overtake ’em.  It was as dominate performance as I have seen in recent years.  I was able to watch the game with my wife and daughter and both loved it.  My baseball team came out and showed great love for their classmates.  This wasn’t only a win for these girls, it was a win for the town. 

Saturday, the East Hampton baseball team won its first ever state title.  While they are our neighbors and natural rivals, I was happy for the kids and the coaches.  I have worked with them off and on the past four years as either a summer coach or just helping out when needed.  Our two schools play on the same legion team over the summer so there is a lot of friendships between the two schools.  I would call it a respectful rivalry.  Plus, it goes to show how freaking good the Shoreline Conference is.  It is by far the toughest small school league in the state and the fact that the past four major sports champions(b+g hoops, base and softball) all come from our conference.

While I wasn’t their coaches directly this season, this is the first time I have coached kids who went on to win a state title.  I coached a number of the girls in soccer this year and a few of the East Hampton kids when they were freshman.  I think that’s the biggest reason why I have such a connection and a sense of pride with these two titles.  I couldn’t be happier for the kids, coaches and everyone else involved.

Now, onto bigger things.  These two state title teams shows me what a team can accomplish when all members love each other like siblings and work as one to achieve a goal.  East Hampton was 3-17 last year.  This year, with relatively the same kids, state champs. Last year, the Hale-Ray girls were 14-9 and lost their last two games in the conference finals and 1st round of states.  This years results have re-energized me and gotten me focused on next year already.

I want so badly to win a state and conference title.  It has been way too long of a drought for boys teams at Hale-Ray.   I want the baseball team to end that streak and I want it to happen next year.  Yes, we are losing some key players but I believe with more hard work and complete dedication by our players that we can put ourselves into title contention.  Hell, all we have to do for motivation is look at the girls in our own school and our closest rival.  I swear to do all I can to put my team in the best possible spot.  A lot of what we do is going to come from our players though.  We need the extra effort in the off-season.  We need guys to buy into going the extra mile to win a title.  We need guys to compete with themselves and each other.  I need our two captains to lead by example.  I’ m just about done with saying “what could have been” and I want to start saying ” here’s what we accomplished.”  I don’t want to just make states, I want to win the whole damn thing.

These two wins have inspired me to be the best coach I can be.  I sure hope to hell that it my players are just as motivated.  We have a golden opportunity here and if they don’t believe that truly anything is possible than I don’t need them. 

We are just eight months away from the start of pre-season, but our march for the state title starts today.  Come on board because I think it is gonna be a helluva ride.


The Off-Season

Thursday, unfortunately, marked the last day of coaching for me this school year.  It was a great year and I learned things about coaching that I hadn’t before.  From coaching girls for the 1st time to my 1st basketball game to my humbling JV baseball season I think they all helped me become better.  I guess we’ll know for sure next school year. 

What this brings now is a well deserved off-season.  Started this past weekend.  It was nice having a Saturday where the only responsibility I had was home stuff.  Got to take a little nap, watched the Sox (thank go d they won, that could have ruined the day), washed the car, was able to sit down to a nice dinner with the fam and we even watched a movie together.  It was almost as we were an actual family unit. 

Sunday I got to sleep in a bit, make some breakfast then go out and play 18 holes followed by dinner.  So I guess this is what it’ll be like living a “normal” schedule.  I think I can get used to this.

Yesterday was a nice day off of work.  My brother and I played in a tournament we’ve played in the past three years honoring a former co-worker who died four years ago.  This tourney has raised a ton of money for his kids college funds, two other scholarships in his name, an organ donation program and this year they were able to give an AED unit to Palmer Field in Middletown.  Even after three years and a down economy, this is still the biggest outing that Lyman Orchards has all year.  Says a lot about a guy that it keeps going this strongly.

Back to work today but more importantly, back to the gym.  I have gone sparingly at best these past many months.  Now it’s time to kick it into high gear.  Not making any promises to myself, just wanna get back to feeling good again.

The Day After

This day is always has a weird feeling.  The day following the last game of the season.  Yesterday, we (Hale-Ray) lost our 2nd round state game against Wamogo 7-5.  Wamogo is a good team, hell they have 18 wins but we felt that they were for the taking.  It just so happens that they were better than us yesterday, but not by much.  It was a tough way to go but our kids can hold their heads high.  They have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  They battled through some adversary this year and when all is said and done, we still had the tying runs on base in the 6th and the tying run at the plate in the 7th, we just couldn’t get that big hit.  You really can’t ask for much more from a team.

I will take away a lot from this past season: Humility after a 1-10 JV season, pride in our seniors, excitement in our future and the fact that I need to continue to work hard to become a better coach.

Every year you have seniors that leave a program, this years bunch were a special group of guys.  They made the states in all three major sports (soccer, basketball, baseball), league playoffs in two( soccer, basketball), double-digit wins in all three sports after not having more than seven wins the previous year.  While they didn’t win a championship during their tenure, I will look back on these guys as winners and true leaders.  I wish I could mold future seniors into their likeness.

Kenny Conover struggled with injuries for all four of his seasons.  He came in as the starter at 2b, got injured and lost his spot.  He battled through some tough spots and by the end of the season, he earned his spot back and was great defensively for us.  Kenny was the ultimate team player.  He was positive, loud, passionate, confident and really competitive.  He’ll be going to UConn and I know what ever he chooses to do, Kenny will succeed because of how much he cares about what he does.  He has been one of my favorite kids I have coached in my 11 years there.

Rob Michaud started playing baseball last year.  One of the benefits of being such a small school is we usually don’t cut kids.  rob decided to come out his junior year with no baseball experience.  By the end of this season his growth was remarkable.  He went from a junior who I had to show how to swing a bat, throw, catch and just about everything else to a senior, who in his last game, got his 1st two varsity hits.  His smile as he got to 1st base made all that work worth it. 

Pete Olsen went from this average sized freshman to a 6’5″ athlete over his four years.  This year he was our #1 pitcher and our clean-up hitter.  His last two games may have been his best.  He went 3-4 and threw a complete game on Tuesday against Westbrook and again went 3-4 against Wamogo yesterday.  Pete isn’t a vocal leader but I wish all kids had his work ethic and fire.  Pete’s downsize is that’s he’s to hard on himself, and that’s not really a bad thing.  He didn’t want to be just another player.  Pete was selected as an honorable mention in our conference and he’ll be going to Keene St. next year where the baseball coach is getting a hidden gem.  With his skills and work ethic, he can have a great college career.  Not to mention, one of the nicest and most polite kids I have coached.

Zach Lafemina was our best player this year.  That’s a simple fact since he was our lone 1st team conference player and we found out yesterday that Zach made 1st team all-state.  Only the 3rd baseball player to do so from our school.  One look at Zach and you may write him off.  He’s short and doesn’t seem that strong.  Looks sure are deceiving.  He is lightning fast and pound-for-pound our strongest kid.  He plays a D-1 level centerfield and it’s obvious I’m not the only one who thinks so.  It’s safe to say we have never had a player like him before and it could be a while before we do again.  A special player who is bringing his skills to Avery Point UConn next year.

JT Smith is going down as one of the best athletes at our school.  All-State twice in soccer.  An All-American soccer scholar-athlete this past fall.  2nd team all-state in basketball as a senior while leading the states in steals.  This spring he was chosen to play in the Senior  all-star game as a catcher.  The crazy thing is, golf may be his best sport.  JT has started in every sport since his freshman year.  He is about a humble a star as you will find.  He always gives credit to his teammates as he leads and forces them to be better.  JT is a fiery competitor and always wants the hardest assignment.  He was the keeper in soccer, the point guard in basketball and our catcher.  It’s been an absolute joy to watch him play these past four years and he should be proud of his great four years in Hale-Ray.  He leaves a legacy at our school that may never be seen again.    Syracuse is getting one helluva kid and should thank their lucky stars that Cornell was dumb enough not to take him.

These five guys will be missed and now it is the responsibility of our juniors to make sure that the team is left in good hands.  Tyler Rand, Jeremy Francese, Harry Martin, Matt Wells and Shawn Carlson will be next years leaders and I have full confidence that we will continue to have success in the Hale-ray baseball program.

Thank you guys for a great four years both on and off the field.  I am proud of each of you and am excited for your futures.  Always remember your roots and you will always be a member of the baseball family.

Game Time

Tonight, we (Hale-Ray boys basketball) opens up the 2011 Class S basketball tournament at home.  We had a really good season that resulted in 13 regular season wins and a 11 seed.  We were able to win one game in the shoreline play-offs but this has been our main goal all year: making a run in the states.

Our 1st round match-up couldn’t be tougher.  You would think a team with 13 wins and a top-12 seed would get a good draw but we are rewarded with the right to play Old Lyme, our conference champion.  They went out and beat the top three seeds in the shoreline(Hyde, Cromwell and Valley) to get their championship.  Great, what a reward.

At least we know how tough they are and we beat them earlier in the year at home.  Will it be tough, damn right but we wouldn’t want it any other way.  In our minds we’ve worked to damn hard for us to be one-n-done.  They got their rings, now it’s time for us to earn ours. 

We are expecting close to 500 people packed in our little gym.  500 loud and raucous fans making it a great environment.  All season our kids have prided themselves on being the best student section in the conference and if they want to secure that title, they better come out in droves tonight.  They better be there early and better be ready to be vocal.  We need them as our sixth man tonight.  We need them to pick their game up a notch to unfound heights just like they expect of our basketball team.

I love pro and college sports but there is something truly special about a big high school game in a tiny gym.  It reminds you what makes competition so great.  You have kids cheering on friends that they have been with since kindergarten.  They have this life-long bond of growing up in the same small town.  It’s that kind of student/athlete bond that can raise our team to the next level. 

I can’t wait for the game to start.  It’s been a great journey so far and none of us associated with it are ready for it to end. 

SO, if you are coming, get there early.  Game starts at 7, tickets go on sale at 5:30 and we expect the gym to be packed by 6:30.  We can only hold about 500 so if you are late, you are getting turned around, ne exceptions.

If you can’t make it, send us some good vibes.  Any extra oomph can’t hurt.

One last thing:

Let’s Go Noises!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 p.s. if you want in game updates and can’t be there follow me on twitter @hendu11

Welcome to Big Time Football UConn

This is what happens when you are succesful.  Others want your services.  What Edsall did is no different than what any other person would do.  He worked hard at his original job, succeeded and was rewarded with a bigger opportunity.  He didn’t abandon his players or his school.  He didn’t stab the state in the back.  He simply did what he thought was better for him, why is that so bad?  He spent 12 very good years here.  He was able to accomplish what many only dreamed of.  The UConn football family should thanks Edsall for his time here and wish him luck in College Park.

Now, Maryland the program isn’t necessarily a huge step up like Notre Dame would have been.  It is a more established program.  He took UConn as far as he could take it.  This Maryland job is another stepping stone for him.  If he can improve the program, win a few ACC titles then you’ll see Edsall at a big time school soon.  That’s what he is looking at.  The ACC is a better conference and gives him a better chance in his career.

Look at this as a great opportunity for UConn.  They can go on a national search for their next coach.  They don’t need to settle for some no-names with state ties like the Hartford Courant suggested this morning.  (How can the biggest paper in the state be so poor in their choices: Mark Whipple Ken O’Keefe and Norries Wilson.  Yeah, who the hell are these guys is right.)  I think the school needs to shoot for the stars (sorry for the lame cliché.)  If Rich Rodriguez gets let go by Michigan, he should be choice #1.  Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach could be an option, albeit a risky one.  I think the most likely scenario is that the next coach currently resides in the MAC or Conference USA.  I really like the Tulsa coach Todd Graham.  He’s had a great three-year run and may be looking for a BCS conference job.  Another possible route is a big-time offensive or defensive coordinator from a major program like a Penn State. 

Really the possibilities are endless.  Like I said this should be a time to celebrate.  The program has a chance to build off a very good season and try to improve under a new coach in the years to come.  If the administration plays their cards right, we could be looking at the dawning of a great era of Connecticut football.  If they botch this though, the program will be set back many years.

Just do it right.

Another New Venture

Today will mark a first for me: I will be taking part in my 1st high school basketball practice as JV coach at Hale-Ray High School.

Never coached basketball before but I know the game and I know how to coach and I am more than ready for this challenge.  The plus side is I know most of the kids because I coach them in baseball but I am a bit nervous about practice today. 

I have a hunch the first couple of days I will be doing a lot of observing just to get a feel for what and how this is going to work.  Luckily the head coach will have the practiced planned out so all I gotta do is follow his lead.  There will actually be three coaches this year.  The head coach has been there for a number of years now and his son is helping out.  He brings D-1 experience from Stetson.  It’ll be great learning from two guys who have been around the game for a long time. 

I always just thought of myself as a baseball coach.  After coaching girls soccer this year I realized that I really love coaching, no matter the sport and frankly, I feel I am pretty good at it.  Once I found out that there was not a JV basketball coach yet, I leapt at the opportunity. 

This will be a very difficult undertaking for both me and my family.  Most practices and all games are at night (Uusually ending between 7 and 9).  That means some very long days and even some stretch of time when I don’t get to see my wife or daughter that often.  Nikki understands though how much I love coaching(the pay doesn’t hurt either) and that this could be a huge stepping stone for me.  Luckily I will be able to take naps in the afternoon to off-set my 2am wake-up call.

What fun is life without challenges anyway? 

Wish me luck and Let’s go Noises!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday Randomness

Things have finally calmed down a bit in the news world.   Holy crap what a crazy couple of weeks.  1st the Hayes verdict, than the election, the fallout from the election and the boneheadedness from Bridgeport than the Hayes sentence than Foley conceding, it’s been a little hectic here at the Peacock.  As much as I love breaking news, it’s nice to take a breather once in a while.  Not to long though, we need news to keep us working.  Just a brief respite.

There have been a few things that I have wanted to write about but just didn’t have the time for.  First off, you all heard about the Mother who let her son dress up as Daphne for Halloween.  Her blog and related comments/post made national headlines.  When I first heard about this I couldn’t believe why everyone was all worked up about it.  So what.  Her son wanted to go as Daphne, it’s Halloween.  We dress up as someone we aren’t.  He’s five.  He liked it.  He dressed as her.  What else is there to explain.  End of story.  If he was a little girl dressing as Superman or any other “male” character would anyone care?  Would that make that girl a lesbian?  I don’t think a little boy dressing as a girl will make him gay.  For god’s sake he’s 5!!!!  He’s a kid dressing up!!!  Leave the damn family alone.  All the people hating on him and his mother have some serious issues you all need to get over.  As a father I could care less what me kids dresses up as.  He’s a kid just having fun.

Watched the Bush/Lauer interview last night.  As much as I didn’t like him as the President and that I voted against him twice I still have respect for the man because of what he was.  It’s not an easy job and it is entirely thankless.  I may not have agreed with his choices but he did what he thought was the right thing for the country.  As I listened to him last night he was open, respectful, bitter, angry, remorseful, personable, funny and direct.  Pretty much the reason’s he got elected.  I believe that as time passes history will have a much different view of his eight years in office.  Were they perfect, no but who was. 

Just out this morning:  ESPN is saying so long and farewell to Joe Morgan and Jon Miller from its’ Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.  While no replacements have been named yet, this is without the definition of addition by subtraction.  This isn’t a shot at Jon Miller as it is to Joe Morgan, perhaps the worst baseball announcer ever.  I’ll take ten McCarvers over one Morgan any day and I despise McCarver.  Jon Miller is a fine baseball man.  He is the voice of the World Champion Giants and is great on the radio.  That’s why he’s leaving the TV booth and ESPN jumped at the chance to boot Morgan.  I’m hoping that Orel Hershiser is half the new duo and Dave O’Brien the other half.  Both have earned their stripes and are light-years better than the previous two together.

I’m starting a new gig:  basketball coach.  I will be the JV coach at Hale-Ray for the upcoming season.  This will be a new thing for me, never coached bball before but I can’t wait for the challenge.  I love the game and I hope that love can carry over to success on the bench.  Hopefully my wife can make it through another season 🙂

Finally a little nepotistic (is that a word?) cross promotion.  My Mom has the honor to be part of a book called “Fits Hits and Matters of the Heart….”  She has an essay in it titled Tending the Garden of Grief .  This book is a collection of short stories and essays from free-lance writers from around the country.  This is a work of love by these authors and if you need a gift for a loved one who enjoys to read, I ask you to consider this.