After their dreams came true at Disney World this weekend, the AOTR (Athletes On The Rise) Junior Legends team was back at practice this week, preparing for the Summer Nationals in two weeks.
The U14 squad is coming off winning the Disney International Salute to Baseball Tournament, as they defeated the Florida Braves 14-4 in the championship game on Saturday morning at the Disney Wide World of Sports. Two of their games were decided by just one run, but they 10-run ruled the rest of their competition. They are now 17-2 on the season.
As for that competition, the kids from schools like CBA, C-NS, Cato-Meridian, Cazenovia, Liverpool and Solvay played others from the states of Florida, California and even other countries like Panama and Puerto Rico. Obviously, those teams play well over 100 games a year, while this Central New York-based squad usually plays less than half that amount games.
"That was our number one goal," head coach Stephen Kuss, a Henninger product, says. "To get out of Central New York and show these kids what baseball's really about, here you're only limited to so many months of baseball."
The squad started back in 2012, mainly because of a dream one of its players, CBA 9th grader Bryce Moore, had when he was a child. Not coincidentally, it was to play baseball on the Disney Wide World of Sports complex.
"I went to Disney when I was 8 years old, and I told my dad, 'I want to play on these fields one day', and it was just a dream come true being able to win a championship on it," Moore says.
It was dream come true for the team as a whole, who piled on the field in celebration when the final deciding run came across the plate.
The celebration itself was a example of the bond the team has, something that isn't always common on a travel team, which is often made up of athletes from different schools and areas. The players, coaches and parents say the team is founded on the "team" and "family" concept, which the athletes have bought into, saying they're indeed family, playing for each other and for the love of the game.
That love of the game comes into play on a daily basis as well, as they travel not only to different areas of the country (they've played in tournaments in places like Rochester, Buffalo, Connecticut and Maryland), but also different areas in Central New York. They don't have a true home field in the area, so practicing around Central New York can be a mystery at times, depending on field availability.
"We try to get the open field, don't have a field of our own yet, but obviously that's our goal, to have that field of our own, if it happens it happens, if not we figure out what we have to work with, then we go from there," Kuss says.
They do all of their own fundraising, which provides the money to pay tournament fees and travel/lodging costs as well.
With their goal of a championship at Disney reached, they're now looking to the future. Because of their success, including that 17-2 record and multiple tournament wins, they've been invited to their "National Championship", the July 21st Summer Nationals by Triple Crown Sports in Myrtle Beach. While some athletes had to stay home for the tournament at Disney, they'll have the full squad in action for that tournament.
Their goal is to win that tournament, or play well enough to earn a national ranking...and yes, they want to be the top-ranked team in the nation as well.