When you try to put together a youth sports team here in Batavia, you're usually lucky to get more than 30 kids on board -- let alone 30 of the most most athletic kids, like in the larger districts near Buffalo and Rochester.
That's why it's all the more impressive that Batavia's U12 (under 12) soccer team won 11 out of 12 games and suffered no losses -- the exception to the winning streak being a tied game, which was played on a 92-degree evening -- during the 2011 season.
Led by Head Coach Pete Cecere, along with assistant coaches Mike Burns and Steve Moore, the team of 11- and 12-year-olds competed against several Rochester area teams, including: Penfield, Victor, Webster, Churchville-Caledonia, Livonia and Bloomfield (that was the tied game).
On Friday night, Cecere and Burns -- who, in addition to coaching the team, are also on the board of directors for Genesee Amateur Soccer Association (GASA) -- took time to answer some questions for The Batavian at Cecere's home, where the team had a pool party to celebrate their successful season.
Cecere gave a lot of credit to the girls for the effort they put into the games.
"A good core of the team played with me year-round (in preparation)," he said. "We had tremendous defense, great goalies," including Paige Hamiester, Courtney Burns and Maggie Cecere.
"Pete has taken the girls a long way," Burns said.
Up until now, U12 was more of a recreational league than anything else. Cecere, along with other GASA board members, wanted to take it up a notch.
As an assistant coach for the Batavia High School varsity team, he understood the challenge that awaited these girls as they approached the age where they would get into modified sports. Soon, they will match athletic prowess with top-notch athletes from some of the region's bigger districts, where coaches have a much larger pool of players from which to draw.
For that reason, the board wanted to take this "rec" program and make it more competitive.
"About half the girls on this team are going to be playing modified in the fall," Cecere said. "And we (the GASA board) decided that the only way they were going to get better was by swimming with the sharks."
Passionate as he was about this prospect, he was also realistic.
"I said, 'Rochester teams have 150 girls when we're beggin' to get 30, so we probably won't do very well. But the girls (our kids) will be playing now are the same girls they'll be playing in modified, and the only way they're going to be prepared is if they actually get out there and play."
To him, it was about how to make the kids better players rather than how to get more kids on the team.
So what did he and the other coaches do to guide these young ladies through this surprising streak of impressive games? Basically, the strategy involved getting them excited about the game of soccer -- including the whys and wherefores of the game's rules and mechanics.
According to Burns, "you could definitely see the spark in their eyes" as they grew in their knowledge of the game.
"One of the beauties of soccer is that it's a game that teaches itself," Cecere said. The girls were able to "learn by doing," as they say.
Cecere, for his part, made sure that there was always activity on the fields during practices.
"I'm a firm believer that there shouldn't be a lot of standing around at practice," he said. "I try to keep them moving, change up activities so they don't get bored, and be supportive. (It's important to) accentuate the positive."
And whenever he does point out any given player's mistake, he phrases it in the form of a question (for instance, "Can you tell me where you went wrong here?")
"And nine times out of 10, they know the answer."
You could say he's a tough coach. He had his girls play the tough teams, and he definitely kept them movin' during those practices. But as a coach, he is also encouraging and fun.
"He has a great rapport with the girls," Burns said. "It's fun to watch someone who can connect with them, both on a game level and on a fun level -- whether it's goofing around on the sidelines or teaching them about how the game works."
For Cecere, it's all about passion for what he does.
"There is literally nothing I like better than coaching these girls," he said.
For more information on GASA, visit www.gasabatavia.org.
Photo taken by Barbara Paserk