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The Little Team That Could

Local charter school students create their own baseball team and reach the NCS playoffs.

By Bara Waters

Here's the sports story you probably haven't heard, but will make you smile…

The (ACLC) is a small 6-12 charter school that shares a campus with in Alameda. For many years, ACLC high school students were able to participate in Encinal’s team sports, a common practice in California school districts in an effort to provide athletic opportunities to public charter students within their districts. However, this year the (AUSD) decided that public charter school students would no longer be able to play sports on AUSD school teams.

This decision created a dilemma for ACLC students, many of whom had been devoted players on Encinal's various sports teams. So a determined group of baseball players decided to take matters into their own hands. They committed to creating their own baseball team with the goal of qualifying for the NCS championship playoffs.

ACLC's high school has only 130 students, so fielding a team of at least 10 players posed a real challenge. And without a home field, every Hawks game would have to be "away.” Plus, their school population put them in CIF's lowest Division 6 (schools below 200 students), and the lack of nearby teams in this category meant traveling long distances for games and/or playing against
higher-division teams.

But enthusiastic recruiting efforts by the co-captains, senior Roberto Llamas and junior Eli Cassard, built the team roster to 11 players, including Miles Baxter, Drew Fetzer, Ben Fetzer, Harley Finberg, Connor Finn, Moises Haro, Jericho Herrera, Joe Mangahas, and Andres Vargas-Johnson. Robert Llamas (father of Roberto) agreed to serve as their coach, and ACLC graduate
Alex Banks signed on as assistant coach. Thus the ACLC Hawks were hatched.

Despite a late start, the boys had to do everything that "legitimate" high school teams do, including registering with CIF and NCS, creating a team website, recording stats on MaxPreps, holding bake sales to raise funds for uniforms and equipment, and cobbling together a game schedule by asking — and sometimes begging — other teams for any play time possible. The Hawks became a reality only a week before their first scrimmage, and their uniforms arrived the day before their first game.

After an initial loss to Pescadero High, the Hawks soared, winning 11 out of their next 12 games. For fans, it was exciting to see how each player, even those who had never played baseball before, made vital contributions to the winning streak.

Among numerous season highlights was a mid-season game against the varsity squad of Oakland High School, a CIF Division 2 school of about 1,800 students. As the scruffy Hawks team arrived at the imposing school with its impressive athletic fields and saw the Oakland dugout filled with 20+ players and three coaches, they were intimidated. But the Hawks played on boldly, gaining an early lead and beating Oakland handily by five runs (13-8).

Hawks batting was remarkably strong, ultimately tallying a team average of .391 for the season. Drew Fetzer and Andres Vargas-Johnson posted averages over .450, Connor Finn and Roberto Llamas averaged over .500, and Eli Cassard hit .605.

Pitching and fielding were similarly surprising and consistent for such a small school and newly formed team. Base running and stolen bases were another team strong suit, with the Hawks ranked at the top of their league throughout the season.

As a testament to the team’s success and perseverance, the Hawks were invited to play in the 2012 NCS playoffs. Yes, a first-year, self-started, ragtag team made it all the way to the playoffs! And while they lost to a well-outfitted Fremont Christian (11-9) in the first game, there was no doubt these students had done what they set out to do regardless of school district policies and politics: play ball, and do it with Alameda heart!

P.S. Sadly, due to the high number of graduating seniors on this year’s Hawks team, there will not be enough players to field an ACLC varsity baseball team next year.

Editor's note: A group of ACLC parents and students plan to attend the AUSD Board of Education meeting Tuesday to express their concern over the policy that bans ACLC students from Encinal High teams. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Alameda High School cafeteria at the corner of Walnut and Central avenues.

The ban this year affected cross country and track, girls volleyball and cheerleading (and possibly other sports) in addition to baseball. ACLC students were permitted to take part in some other EHS extracurricular activities this school year, including drama.

EJC June 10, 2012 at 01:37 PM
What a great story! Congrats to everyone who stepped up and became a leader!
Lynn Kameny June 10, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Lynn Kameny As we say at the Alameda Community Learning Center: "If you have a passion or dream, you can make it happen!" The Hawks soaring season, once again, proves this reality! We could not be prouder of the ACLC Hawks!
Anthony Bologna, Jr. June 10, 2012 at 05:48 PM
"Great job, HAWKS"......congratulations on your success this season and all the hard work you put in to achieve it. "Little David" (ACLC) taught "Big Goliath" (AUSD) a big lesson....."pick on someone your own size"......hoped they learned something from it ana allow all interested students back into the program; WHY does AUSD want to make a "bad situation", worse for these students........???
Robert Cassard June 11, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Our family has middle school daughter and a high school (baseball player) son. When we moved from Southern Cal to Alameda's west side in 2010, we enrolled them both in ACLC to keep them together and connect them into a small and manageable community. We didn't understand why the AUSD was suddenly acting to change a long-standing athletic policy that seemed beneficial to everyone involved. ACLC students have always been an asset to Encinal teams, and the ability to participate has been an asset to ACLC students. The policy change directly prevented our son from playing ball during his sophomore year. But we are proud and happy that, as a junior, he and his senior class friends creatively overcame this obstacle. This whole story demonstrates how ACLC does educate and empower the leaders of tomorrow. I'm glad to see they are now taking the matter before the school board in an intelligent and reasonable way!
Dylan Cassard June 13, 2012 at 05:36 PM
After their performance last season, it's great that the Hawks are not letting this recent setback stop them from playing. It seems like the AUSD should be bending over backwards to help them, even if it's just for an interim year while they try and rebuild the team.

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