WESLEY CHAPEL — Going through advanced training and winning championships don't sound like typical activities for 6-year-olds, but in Wesley Chapel, a different approach to coaching has led to big success for a T-ball team.
The Wesley Chapel American boys' T-ball team won the state championship over the Fourth of July weekend with a four-game winning streak at just the right time. The team was undefeated in the five-team round robin tournament to win the first-ever Dixie Youth Baseball state T-ball tournament in Hardee County.
Unlike most T-ball teams, Wesley Chapel teams play their regular season without a tee, instead opting to have coaches pitch to the kids. That practice, said Wesley Chapel coach Ed Richter, made the biggest difference in the team's run to a championship.
"It makes the kids have to pay attention more and keep their focus when they are hitting," Richter said. "I think it made a big difference. We had some pretty good players from six different teams in our Wesley Chapel Athletic Association league. It seemed like when we got up against other teams, they would have five or six good players, whereas we had 10 good players who were almost playing down a level when given a tee."
The parents saw that not only were the boys winning, but they also were bonding in their short time together.
"When it was all over and the team was getting the trophies, it looked like my son had a tear in his eye," said Karie Kwiat, mother of catcher Caden Kwiat. "I asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn't want it to be over and that he just wanted to keep playing baseball with his friends."
The coaches said creating that camaraderie wasn't difficult. Coach Rich Doran watched the team come together and felt as if the development of the kids was the key to the team's victory.
"We taught our kids baseball, and that was big in helping us create a fundamentally very good team," Doran said. "Our defense and base running was what got us to this tournament and allowed us to win it, but this group was made up of 13 kids that were able to adapt and gel into a cohesive unit. There is no doubt that was a big factor in what made this team special."
For the league, winning a state championship provided more than just confidence for the boys alone. It was a symbol of what the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association feels that all of its programs can achieve.
"It was a big win for the league because with it we bring some showmanship to the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association and show that we have some really good programs," Doran said. "The level of competition for these kids is good, and we're teaching these kids good sportsmanship."
David Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.