A throng close to 1,000 people made their way through the streets of Mineola this past Saturday morning, marching along Jericho Turnpike and Mineola Boulevard as they made their way toward the Field Complex to kick off the start of the 2012 little league season.
In a , the parade began at the , went west on Jackson Avenue to Wardwell Road before turning north on Wardwell Road, going east on Jericho Turnpike to Mineola Boulevard then south to Second Street, east to Willis Avenue, then north before heading into the little league complex.
The entire parade lasted a little over an hour as parents marched with – and carried – their young children as traffic stopped along the major roads in Mineola.
“We have so many people within the village of Mineola and the MAA organization to thank for making all this possible – things like fields, equipment, coaching maintenance, registration, insurance and safety – are just a few of the aspects of our organization,” MAA President Frank Giordano said during the opening ceremony at the field complex. “All of the different areas of our programs are run and looked at by people who care, our volunteers.”
Giordano also thanked village superintendent of public works Tom Rini and the , saying that “it’s a great relief knowing the village board and the public works department is here for us.”
Deputy mayor Paul Pereira filled in for , who could not attend due to a hike with Troop 45.
“He certainly sends his regrets, he sends his congratulations on another opening for the baseball, softball and soccer season,” Pereira said with the players gathering on the outfield grass. “This organization is near and dear to all of our hearts and we can’t say enough for how proud you make us each and every year, year after year.”
Pereira would join fellow trustees Lawrence Werther and George Durham in kicking and throwing out the first soccer ball, baseball pitch and softball pitch, respectively.
The 46th annual Joe Bruno award – the highest award recognizing the efforts of an adult member of the MAA – was given to Sam Fischer, who was a player, coach and parent and had has served time as president of baseball, softball and cheerleading as well as travel commissioner.
“During Sam’s tenure as the president, he made many changes, some in the board room and some outside, like the batting cages that we have here now,” MAA Vice-president of Technology Jon Perlow said. “That was part of Sam’s vision.”
Citing the travel Hurricane baseball program as his biggest legacy, Prello continued that “when Sam’s son was 8-years-old, he had a vision to create a travel baseball team that would one day... go play in Cooperstown’s Dreams Park.”
That dream was fulfilled when those players turned 12 in summer 2010.
“When you look around today and you see the youth, the parents, the coaches, you see the village officials, you see the people who have made the grounds so beautiful, when you look at the trees and the grass, the dirt, there’s a God who made it all,” Pastor Chester Easton said in an invocation to bless the field.
The opening day ceremonies are also a time to bestow awards upon those who contribute to the league.
Each year the Mayor’s Trophy award is handed out for effort above and beyond on behalf of the little league program. This year the award was bestowed upon three individuals: Steve Cocheo, Gerry Bohner and Norbert Gerstner.
Cocheo, whose affiliation with the MAA dates back to the 1970’s “and is now one of the people that works behind the scenes to provide a safe environment for your child to play,” Bill Duffy said.
Bohner, another longtime MAA member who has coached both of his sons in intramurals and is currently the commissioner of the minors “has always provided his players with a great baseball experience. He believes in equal playing time, having fun and enjoying the game of baseball that he loves.”
Gerstner has coached both intramural and travel teams in the spring, summer and fall, serving as Pony League commissioner for the last 3 seasons. “When it seemed that registration was low, he personally recruited kids to play,” Larry Dieghan said, “and that is what it’s always been about for Norbert – providing an opportunity for all boys to play baseball, whether it’s travel, school, whatever.”
The 26th annual Sandy Byrne award for unselfish dedication in the MAA was bestowed upon Al Freehill. Having spent 15 years coaching soccer for both intramural and travel, Freehill “was instrumental in starting his own developmental team which combined MAA players and St. Aiden’s players to ensure these girls would have a soccer season,” Frank Pizzardi said. “Through the years, Hal has ben a mentor to many MAA programs.”
After receiving the award from Pizzardi and travel soccer vice-president Dolores Jose, Freehill said that “I’m very humbled, I’m thrilled and honored for this award,” singling out his travel team, the Mineola Freedom. “This award goes to them and to all the kids I coached in intramurals.”
Also receiving the Mayor’s Trophy was Zach Davis, a coach for the last 4 years and currently with the travel pre-soccer program, “was a major contributor to (first annual MAA soccer fest) success,” helping to run the day’s events and canvassing the community for sponsorships.
Scott Knight, who came up with the idea of the soccer fest, also received an award as did Chris Winski, a coach in the intramural pre-travel soccer program and a member of the soccer board since 2010.
“His contributions to the soccer board are immeasurable but we would like to recognize Chris for his efforts in our pre-travel program which has grown to seven teams in less than one year,” Giordano said of Winski, who could not attend and whose wife, Karen, accepted the award on his behalf.
Maureen Duda, who was described as “the hardest working board member on the MAA soccer board,” Gio said, “makes my job very easy as president because I know you all see the emails that she normally sends out, she’s on top of me and I’d like to thank her for that.”
The Tippy Overton award which is for members who have given 20 years, welcomed their newest member in James Clarkin.
“Jimmy Clarkin grew up in Mineola, he played on teams just like you guys, he wore the sponsor names you guys are wearing today on his back instead of his cap and he lived in the area for basically his entire life,” John Strein said. “He played baseball for the teams here and represented us very well.” was commissioner and rebuilt the Pony baseball program from scratch. “Jimmy’s 20 years is really an outstanding effort for anybody in a program like this,” Strein added.
In his speech, Freehill left the audience with the following thought: “The wins, the losses, the stories, the coaches, the tournaments, it’s like an indelible memory that I’ll have forever. I want to say one word to the coaches that are still coaching: embrace your kids, encourage your kids, do whatever you can because it rally is very worthwhile.”