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Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004

Sports


G.V.L.L. coach expects, gets, more from players

By Judith Stiles

Ray and Craig Scardapane

As neighborhood kids get deeper into Little League season, and enough games have been played for the standings to begin to mean something, Coach Ray Scardapane has done it again. He has another winning team (first place) in the Majors B division of Greenwich Village Little League! His knack for winning games stretches way beyond baseball — to countless seasons of winning teams in basketball and soccer as well.

What’s his secret? The Joe Torre gene? Cherry-picking the best players? No, Scardapane does not stack his teams with talent; he works with whatever players end up on his team, and he brings out the best in them. This year his Kansas City Royals were dubbed “The Little Team” before the season began, because they seemed to have a disproportionate number of smaller players, referred to in whispers as those “skinny little guys.”

However, size meant nothing to Scardapane because he has the vision and leadership to see beyond that. From the very first practice, he understood their potential, looking at how he could develop them as individuals and as a team. He saw them as a scrappy bunch and he knew they would work hard.

Asked to comment on his coach, 10-year-old Mike Krieger asked, “Is this off the record?” with a big mischievous smile. “Ray expects more from us,” Krieger added, now in a serious tone. “He is helpful because he tells us what we do wrong and shows us a better way.”

Krieger was quick to point out that Scardapane is a great coach in a tense game because he will keep the team steady and calm. “When we had that tough game against the Tigers, we never gave up,” Krieger recalled. “And hey, we were tied at the end of six innings 2-2, and I started a 9-run rally with a double. We won!”

Sitting on the bench an hour before the next Royals game, Coach Scardapane was already itchy to get out on the field to warm up his players. He is a high-energy coach who loves to motor around the field with his guys, tossing out terse suggestions, as he thoughtfully tinkers with improving their skills. Without taking his eyes off the players during their warm-up drills, Scardapane briefly described that his “career” as a coach (strictly volunteer) began with basketball when he was in ninth grade, as an assistant to Father Michell in a C.Y.O. program at the Holy Spirit School in Nassau County.

“Father Michell was from the old school; set plays, zone defense, not much running. I learned a lot from him about coaching in general, but I also adopted a lot from what I saw on TV, with the Knicks in the late ’70s,” Scardapane added.

Sometimes as baseball season chugs along, it coincides with the end of the school year and player numbers start dwindling due to conflicts and heavy schedules. But with Coach Scardapane’s team everyone showed up early for the game so he sent his son Craig out onto the field to work with the youngsters, especially to warm up star pitcher, Scardapane’s other son, Brent. Watching them like a hawk, Scardapane settled into summarizing what he believes makes a good coach.

Both sons, Craig, 14, and Brent, 10, have benefited from this philosophy. When speaking of their father as a coach, there is not a twinge of anxiety or pressure about playing for their dad. “My dad builds confidence in players and emphasizes that we work together as a team,” said Craig, describing his dad with pride. “When we are out on the field he treats me and my brother like anyone else.”

The buzz around youth sports in Greenwich Village is that Ray Scardapane should “bottle” what he does as a coach. Parent coaches all over the city are busy peppering their teams with different coaching styles: the yelling approach, the coddling-the-players approach, the hyper-analytical method, the coach who stands behind his batter and babbles endless comments. What is it that Coach Scardapane does that works so well? He is a man of few words, but he has a gift for motivating his team and a natural way of being very clear with them about what they should individually strive for.

This only begins to describe the magic that Coach Scardapane works with his players. For now, you will have to wait for his coaching elixir to appear on the shelves of the local pharmacy, or you can check out his games at J.J. Walker Field, at Hudson and Clarkson Sts., on Friday evenings; that is, if you can get a seat in the crowded stands.


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