Common goals give team its staying power

Team includes, from left, front, Jake McGinnis, Cole Bernstein, Jake Denham, Drew Mudry, Cohlton Kieffer, Greg Waller, Julian Bauerle, Jacob Denton, Conner Woods, Quinn Flanagan, Erick Garlid, David Ewen and batboy Alex Denham. Coaches, back, are Jay Bauerle, Paul Denham, Piot Mudry and Mark McGinnis. — Photo by Larry Bernstein

A team can be defined as a gathering or joining together in a cooperative effort toward a common goal. Tempe Thunder is a 13-and-under team that was started four years ago, and the members have stuck together competing and supporting one another since then.

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Though they happen to play baseball together, in this case their cause is more than sport.

The team, which is filled with neighborhood kids who have all grown up together, was started by Mark McGinnis, an active coach in Tempe South Little League.

The team doesn’t conduct tryouts, cut players or pay coaches.

Almost all the players have been together since the first season, and all of the coaches are parents of kids on the team.

“The baseball part is certainly nice, but it’s the long-lasting friendships that make it special for the boys,” McGinnis said.

“That was really what we were shooting for when we put the thing together four years ago—to give the kids a chance to play baseball at a relatively high level while still being able to stay together with a group of kids from their neighborhood.”

Since the team joined together, the players have supported each other for a common goal. For the Thunder players and parents, however, their team’s purpose has recently shifted course.

Piot Murray, a mom of one of the team’s players, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2010. She underwent a double mastectomy in September and began chemotherapy last December. The team has rallied in support ofMurray, and has donned pink shoelaces on their cleats to show support.

“The community support has been incredible. Everyone has really been there for me,”Murraysaid. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you really just need to try to stay on top of it.”

On the same day this piece was written,Murrayunderwent her last chemotherapy treatment.

“The special aspect for me is how close the boys and parents have become over the years. It is a unique experience for all of us,” said McGinnis.

“The closeness has shown up in a lot of ways, including the boys’ support for Piot this year.”

The coaches are Paul Denham, Larry Bernstein, Mark McGinnis and Jay Bauerle, and they try to get the team to at least one tournament every two weeks as well as a few practices during the week.

Most recently the team competed in and won the Silver bracket championship of the USSSA Thanksgiving Shoot-out tournament at Big League Dreams inMesa.

“The boys, and now the parents, have become a very close-knit group,” said Denham. “Though we don’t win every game or tournament, it has been a fabulous experience for the boys who have also become pretty good players along the way.”

The Thunder have made an effort to participate in activities outside the realm of baseball as a group. Among other ventures they have served dinner at St. Vincent de Paul inPhoenixand packed food at Feed My Starving Children inTempetogether.

Once in a blue moon there comes a band of people that reminds us of what a sport and a team are supposed to be about. While a team in all senses of the word, the Thunder recognizes being a team off the field can be more important than on.

Lifting each other up off the field, coupled with the bonding experience that comes from competing in a friendly environment, is the all-too-often-forgotten reason so many people begin to love sports in the first place.

The Thunder players and family form a team that puts meaning to the phrase “It’s more than just a game.”



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