Matthew Sprague: Team rises from the ashes, for real
Out of the ashes, a team rose and overcame adversity to triumph over all.
Reads like a tagline for a bad movie, doesn't it? You've seen this one a hundred times. The Dalton-Hinsdale Little League, though, actually saw it happen this summer.
Kurt Card's biggest challenge wasn't replacing a key player, or snapping his team out of a losing streak. The Quality Printing coach had a tougher job the morning of April 10: explaining to his players that their equipment and uniforms had been destroyed by vandals.
"They were right behind me. It was tough," the 20-year DHLL coach said. "One of the kids asked, ‘What happened to our stuff?' I don't want to tell him the wrong thing because kids are being kids. I told him somebody did a bad thing and our stuff is laying over there in the pile."
Catcher/right fielder Noah Bracci, 12, and his father thought someone had just had a bonfire the night before when they showed up that morning.
"I was really sad that it happened," Bracci said, "and I was mad at the same time, thinking ‘Why would anybody do that?' "
Outrage, of course, was the prevailing emotion. It also spurred many to give of themselves to replace what had been lost.
People donated thousands of dollars to replace the damaged property. Quality Printing made sure its team was fully equipped and had new uniforms before the May 7 season opener.
"It was a good feeling that people cared," shortstop Shane Sinopoli, 13, said. "It helped us a lot. We saw what happened and we just played baseball."
For kids, an unfortunate event like the vandalism is tough to forget. Card, though, didn't want them to forget. He and his staff -- assistants Neil Genaway and John Bracci -- kept the team focused, but used the vandalism to push his players.
"Coach Card kept motivating us each game," Bracci said. " ‘Remember when there was a fire in the driveway? Remember that each game.' "
In response, Quality Printing went 11-3 in the regular season and advanced to the league championship game in late June. In the title game, Quality took an early 2-0 lead, and with Will Genaway pitching a complete game, the team held on for a 2-1 win and a championship that had definitely been earned on and off the field.
Drew Dunham ran to Sinopoli to celebrate, and Sinopoli lifted him off the ground.
"It felt great. It was just a spontaneous thing," Sinopoli said of the 10-to-15-minute celebration. "It could have [gone on longer], probably."
"I felt like it was a big [weight] off my chest," Noah Bracci said. "From my 9-year-old year to my 11-year-old year, we hadn't done that well. It felt better to have won a championship."
For Card and everyone connected to the Quality Printing team, it was a feeling better than any that some uplifting sports movie could give them.
"I felt like shedding a tear," Card said. "It was such a great relief that we played so well in not just that game, but the entire season."
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