Charles Calli (Doctors Charter School), Damani Downs (Maddie Ives Elementary School), Connor Goodman (Miami Country Day School), Mason Koczwara (Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center) and Sofia Rodriguez (Springview Elementary School) are the Miami Marlins/Miami Herald Team Player Honorees for June.
These standout student athletes, who also display community involvement and sportsmanship, were congratulated by Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and lovable mascot Billy the Marlin near home plate during a ceremony before the Marlins game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Marlins Park.
In an effort to recognize deserving South Florida youth baseball and softball players for doing well in school and displaying sportsmanship on the diamond, the Miami Marlins have once again partnered with The Miami Herald to co-sponsor the Team Player Spotlight on the Sunday Youth Sports pages in the Neighbors section of The Miami Herald in print and online.
Youth league coaches, team representatives, teachers, friends or family members nominate youth baseball or softball players, who display sportsmanship and good grades or academic improvements. Eligible nominees are from the recreational in-house league or travel league or school league (elementary school or middle school aged) for any season of the year.
Each honoree received a certificate of achievement, two tickets, complimentary parking and an autographed Yelich card.
Miami Herald Youth Sports Reporter Samantha Hahn covered the event.
Here is her video report.
About the honorees
Charles Calli, 13, recently completed seventh grade as a scholar athlete at Doctors Charter School on the campus of Barry University in Miami Shores. Enrolled in honors/advanced courses, he maintains a B-plus average and competes for the school’s inaugural middle school baseball team.
Doctors Charter is a public school. Miami-Dade County does not offer public middle school baseball. So the team played the most established programs at private schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, spanning a rigorous 18-game schedule.
Charles is a pitcher who, after Doctors Charter went 0-12, pitched the team to two consecutive victories. First, he pitched a complete game 5-3 win over Ransom Everglades (which previously beat Doctors Charter 12-3.) Next, he pitched in relief, striking out the last four batters to earn the first save in program history. He later pitched another win.
Charles displayed great sportsmanship -- never getting discouraged during those first 12 games.
For the season, he had two wins and a save and struck out 38 batters. Offensively, he had eight hits, walked nine times, scored seven runs including the winner against St. Rose of Lima and reached twice on hit-by-pitch.
Anthony Haderer, athletic director, Doctors Charter School, said: “Charles Calli displays what a student-athlete really is each and every day. Charles is a proud member of the National Junior Honor Society for his accomplishments in the classroom. He maintains A's and B's in all of his classes.
“In our inaugural baseball season here at Doctors Charter School, Charles took the mound and pitched a complete game while recording seven strikeouts to help lead his team to their first victory in school history 5-3 against Ransom Everglades. The following day, Charles scored two runs and stole four bases to help lead the team to their second straight victory over Hollywood Christian. Charles is a positive role model and teammate on and off the baseball field. I am pleased to have him as a part of our athletic program.”
Charles Dabney-Perez, Honors Civics teacher at Doctors Charter School, said: “Charlie Calli does not blend into the woodwork. As a student, he is unique, inquisitive and excited to be a part of the class. His personality is big and bold and always present. In some students, these traits could work against. But, in Charlie's case, his presence and personality always add to the team, whether in or out of the classroom. He's a good smart young man who attracts the fun loving spirit of those around him. He is generous, kind and loyal... willing to show up for others without compromising his own integrity. As his teacher, I look forward to watching Charlie hone his strengths and talents and expect nothing less from him than an impressive batting average in all he chooses to do.”
Damani Downs, a 7-year-old at Maddie Ives Elementary School in North Miami Beach, competes for the FSU Seminoles in the 8U division of Pasadena Lakes Optimist baseball in Pembroke Pines.
A leader on the field, Damani has been playing baseball since he was 2 1/2. He really grew into the game with a lot more growing to do. The captain of the FSU Seminoles, he is always keeping his teammates’ heads up, when they make an error or strikeout.
Damani practices everyday, because he is also part of a travel baseball team. In school, he is registered in Gifted classes, earning A’s and B’s with perfect attendance. For a 7-year-old, he does exceptionally well with a busy schedule. Not only does he practice on his ‘off’ days with the travel team, but he also helps the older team at Pasadena Lakes Optimist, when they are short players. Even with all the baseball, he never lets it affect his schoolwork.
Ms. Jay, a teacher at Maddie Ives Elementary School, said: “It has been an honor watching him blossom into the intelligent and kind child that he is. He is fast learning and is not afraid to speak out when he knows there are other ways of completing a task at hand.
“Damani has earned all A's & B's and has perfect attendance. He goes out of his way to help others whether it be in the classroom or on the sports field. Damani Downs is a great candidate for this award. He speaks about baseball as if it's his life line, very passionate about the sport. He has told me that he is aspiring to be a professional baseball player.”
Pasadena Lakes Optimist Coach Kevin Allison said: “Damani is one of the best kids I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching and knowing. I have been coaching hime since he was 4, and he has grown up a lot on and off the field. He is one of the funniest kids I know, but when it’s time to buckle down, whether it’s in school or on the field, he focuses on what he needs to do, and he does it the best he can.
“He pays attention to his coaches and is a very good teammate. He is pretty much always the leader or captain of any team he is on. He sets a great example for his teammates with not only how he plays and listens but also with his sportsmanship to the players from the other teams and umpires. Overall, Damani is one of the most fun and best kids I have ever coaches, and I hope to coach him for many more years.”
Connor Goodman, 13, is an outstanding student athlete at Miami Country Day School in Miami Shores.
An eighth grader in 2014-15, Connor is already a starting infielder for the MCD High School varsity baseball team. He batted .341 for a young Spartans’ team that had no seniors and three juniors. He helped them win eight games.
He loves baseball. From age 5, he has excelled in every infield position. He played a significant role as pitcher for his travel team, the Key Rats, helping them win the league championship in 2013 and 2014.
His Classes-Grades at Miami Country Day: English 86-83-92-87 (B+). Integrated Math 84-85-88-85 (B). Social Studies 81-83-86-85 (B). Physical Science 80-87-93-89 (B+). Spanish 84-86-87-89 (B). COEP 95-94-92-92 (A). Physical Education 90-90-92-94 (A).
At Miami County Day School, he has achieved many honors including President’s Academic Award, President’s Service Award, Academic Director’s List. His athletic accomplishments include: MVP Baseball Award, Rookie of the Year, Athlete of the Week, South Florida Baseball Conference first team.
Miami Country Day School Athletic Director/Head Varsity Baseball Coach Chuck Sennett said: “At the beginning of the season, our coaching staff was unsure as to whether Connor would participate on the varsity or middle school team. After two weeks of practice, we decided to keep him as a part of the varsity squad but were a bit worried about the amount of time this eighth grader would get with the older kids.
“Connor worked as hard as anyone to earn playing time. He began the pre-season and regular season as the starting third baseman, hitting seventh or eighth in the order. Connor would eventually earn the starting shortstop position and would remain a starter at shortstop and third base the entire season – batting as high as fifth. He finished second on the team in batting average, second in on-base percentage and recorded some quality innings at shortstop. In addition, he was named to the South Florida Baseball Conference first team.”
Connor is also the co-founder of the Miami Marlins MVP Program, and he is committed to helping the youth make positive choices.
Mason Koczwara, 9, who recently completed fourth grade at Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center in Bay Harbor Islands, competes for the Miami Marlins in North Miami Beach Little League.
Mason shows a tremendous amount of sportsmanship, and he never complains. He is an outstanding athlete and also a standout student. He made the Honor Roll all year and is involved in services throughout the community. He works tremendously hard on and off the field.
Frances Mora-Gonzalez, fourth grade teacher at Ruth K. Broad Bay Harbor K-8 Center in Bay Harbor Islands, said: “Mason is a natural leader. He has a great attitude, helping other students become successful in and out of the classroom. He is caring and responsible and displays strong characteristics of a team player. He enjoys school and works hard everyday to be the best version of himself.”
Coach Pete Viola of North Miami Beach Little League said: “Mason is a terrific all-around talent who plays the game the right way, with respect and hustle. He loves to compete and takes advantage of every opportunity to improve as a player. He has a great deal of skill, but it's his positive attitude, hustle and intensity that separate him from others. He's a great teammate, and a great kid.”
Coach Kenny Fill of North Miami Beach Little League said: “Mason is an outstanding young man. He gives 100 percent on every play, but most importantly, he is a great teammate. Mason does not know what the word 'quit' means. His enthusiasm and hard work inspires all others around him on the field and in the dugout.”
Nominated by a family friend, Sofia Rodriguez, 10, is a standout student in the Gifted program at Springview Elementary School in Miami Springs.
Springview Elementary School teacher Jill Vizcaino said: “Sofia is an excellent student and hard worker. She takes great pride in her work and enjoys the feeling of satisfaction she receives from her accomplishments. Her hard work has paid off this year, as she has made the Principal’s Honor Roll. Sofia is a great role model and is well liked by her peers.”
Vizcaino continued: “She excels in reading and is one of the first students each quarter to meet her Accelerated Reader Goal. Sofia is also very creative – always adding her personal touch to her assignments. As an accomplished athlete, this is not an easy thing to do. I commend Sofia Rodriguez for her hard work, dedication and determination to both her education and her love of softball.”
In softball, she is very responsible, loves the game and never quits. She began playing with Miami Springs Little League and joined Team Crush two years ago.
Team Crush 10U Softball Coach Angel Torres said: “Sofia Rodriguez is a player I have been around and coached since she was at the early age of 6-years-old. She is 10-years-old now and has grown into a player/person that one would hope all kids would be like. Each season she is the first to show up at practice -- always wearing a bright smiling face and a glove. ‘Where do I go coach?’ as she always asks.
“She is an excellent teammate, super positive player, and she always has a kind word to say when a teammate has just struck out or is just having a bad day. She exemplifies the word ‘Sportsmanship,’ and to any coach, she is a dream to have as a player on your team.
“The Little League Pledge that we say at the start of every season, Sofia Rodriguez lives that pledge with her team. The Little League Pledge includes the words, ‘I Will Play Fair and Strive to Win, But Win or Lose, I Will Always Do My Best.’ Those words were first spoken more than seven decades ago, and they continue to be a point of emphasis in the Little League program.”
MLB Bat Girl contest
Nominate someone who is Going to Bat Against breast cancer.
Winners will receive MLB game tickets and the opportunity to be recognized on-field during the game. Vote for nominees affected by the disease.
To support Miami Marlins star pitcher José Fernández on his road to recovery, the Marlins announce the return of the José’s Heroes season ticket package for the 2015 season.
For $499, José’s Heroes receive:
-A ticket to all 81 Marlins regular season home games. That’s about $6 a seat.
-A special edition José’s Heroes T-shirt each month.
-A complimentary ‘K’ Card!
-A meet-and-greet event with the man himself, José Fernández.
-Purchase the José’s Heroes season ticket package and travel to Marlins Park to support the Fish, 25 men strong.
Giancarlo Stanton’s G-Squad
To support Miami Marlins powerhitter Giancarlo Stanton, join Giancarlo Stanton’s All-New G-Squad.
For $27, you can be a member of the G-Squad, which will unite during five Saturday games.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit marlins.com/gsquad.