By Jamie Cudney
If the village of Shelburne seems noisy on many spring evenings and Saturday mornings, listen closely. It is the cheers from the Shelburne Little League teams playing baseball, and their fans, at the fields behind the Shelburne Town Offices on Route 7.
At those fields, the RockHounds (sponsored by Good Times Cafe) formed in April, a AAA Little League Minors team with kids from Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg, managed by Mike Junga and assistant managers Tim Ayer and Chris Walker. Coach Junga set clear expectations for the RockHounds from day one: Be a STAR. His coaching philosophy was simple and embodied integrity and the mental and physical conditioning for each STAR on the team:
• Safety: Learn the fundamental baseball mechanics/skills correctly to enjoy the game and avoid injury.
• Teamwork: Everyone contributes with diligent work ethic.
• Attitude: Be positive, show perseverance, cheer for teammates.
• Respect: Demonstrate good sportsmanship and respect for umpires, coaches, teammates and opponents.
Every practice and game the players on the RockHounds had fun, developed skills, and learned the fundamentals of baseball and to prepare for future seasons on SLL Majors. Safety and sportsmanship were always Coach Mike’s top priority. The players quickly progressed from the start of the season, with the team improving in all areas of the game from fielding to batting.
Laura Carotenuto, the mom of 10-year-old RockHound Brendan Chevrier, reflected on the season: “I was truly impressed by Coach Mike’s dedication to the sport, but even more so by his ability to find what motivated each of his players and then to focus on that to enhance their determination and enjoyment of the game… By the end of the season, the connections between the players and Coach Mike was evident and, I’m sure, will be remembered in their hearts for a lifetime.”
Michelle Barth, mom of player Zev Barth of Shelburne, said: “Coach Mike has a kids-first approach. That, coupled with his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game, made him a fantastic coach. Our son looked forward to every practice and every game.”
It was clear early in the season how much Mike loves baseball when he brought his own Little League picture to practice to show the RockHounds and shared stories from his childhood experience playing ball and the feeling of his first big hit! His love for coaching was evident.
Nicci Micco, parent of Julian, 10, of Shelburne summed up: “Mike is an exceptional coach. He arrived with a clear plan for every practice and game and demanded that the players offer him, the other coaches, their teammates and the other team’s players’ respect. He modeled good sportsmanship and the concept that, so long as you do your best and play with integrity, you’ve succeeded. As a result, every player on the Rockhounds significantly evolved their levels of skill and confidence over the season. Julian says the best thing about Coach Mike is ‘everything,’ and has created a shrine next to his bed, with the ball coach gave him after the last play-off game and a team picture.”
At the team’s last game, a loss in the SLL Minors semi-finals on June 6, the RockHound families recognized Coach Mike and his love for his team, baseball and commitment to helping each player shine with a donation to the “Be a Star Fund” to help kids in need at the Hinesburg Community School.
The RockHounds extend a big thank you to Coach Mike for his dedication and endless enthusiasm and a rewarding season filled with lifelong memories.
Jamie Cudney lives in Hinesburg.