MIGUEL MELENDEZ COLUMN
This column appeared on Page C3 in the Star-News sports section on Friday, May 15
Oh, how fitting.
It was just a few months ago when the Arcadia High School baseball team took a bonding trip down to San Onofre State Beach on the grounds of Camp Pendleton.
There, the Apaches were met by Technical Sgt. Michael Muller of the Air Force, Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vargyas of the Marine Corps and Sgt. Nathan Glaw and Sgt. Brian Brimager.
Arcadia spent a weekend there.
The purpose? To bond and learn about accountability.
The Apaches left the camp with a new understanding and admiration for the men and women in the Armed Forces.
Almost as importantly, they learned a lot about themselves outside the realm of baseball.
When the Apaches host Crescenta Valley tonight at 7, Sgt. Vargyas will toss out the first pitch alongside Arcadia legendary coach John Meiers who devoted more than two decades as the Apaches coach.
Arcadia clinched at least a share of the Pacific League title for the first time in six years after Tuesday’s 5-1 win over Pasadena, but can clinch outright with a win tonight.
Surely, the Apaches will draw inspiration from the men who helped them learn to bond, among other things.
“Our season concluded with a Pacific League title but it began with a team-unity trip to Camp Pendleton,” Arcadia assistant coach Valentin Lopez said.
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The Apaches were taught how to walk, talk and stand.
All drills and activities were designed with a team-concept approach where the players relied on one another to help enhance team chemistry.
Lopez, alongside longtime friend Sgt. Muller, created “Camp Goalz.” Its goal was to emphasize teamwork, leadership and communication.
“We want to give other local teams the same opportunity to participate in this unique experience that can be equally beneficial,” Lopez said.
A typical day begins at dusk with a beachfront hike. Teams are challenged from their moment of arrival and split into groups of five: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo.
Each team built a tent, but not for themselves but for one another. The same goes for cooking, cleaning and washing.
They eat MRE’s (meals ready to eat). It’s a pre-packaged meal that’s quick and requires no cooking. But there are two other meals each team has to cook for one another.
“They cook for each other so they (understand) mommy can’t cook all your life,” Sgt. Muller said. “I’m so impressed by these kids. You can’t be a team unless you’re corralled as one unit first. A team is not one individual so we stress moving with a purpose.”
It was also important that there was never a member going anywhere alone, stressing the importance of teamwork.
When one team member did separate from the group, Sgt. Muller asked why he was not accounted for. The entire team went in search and literally carried him back to base camp.
So now you know why it takes two players to retrieve foul balls at home games.
In an age when everyone depends heavily on their Blackberrys it was difficult for the team to leave it all behind that weekend.
No cell phones. No video games or any other electrical devices for that matter.
Arcadia ace Bryce Rutherford said the bonfire was probably the best experience.
Two members were asked to keep fire watch. Their duty was to make sure there were enough logs in the fire to burn throughout the night.
Every hour, two members would rotate to keep an eye on the camp while everyone else slept.
Before all that, players got up and talked about themselves. Everything was fair game, from girlfriends to what kind of music they liked and on, and on.
“I learned a lot about the guys I didn’t know, like the underclassmen,” Rutherford said.
“It’s weird being that you know the kids a couple years and just now finding out certain things about them,” Arcadia coach Nick Lemas said.
Added Rutherford, “Not only did we learn but we definitely had a different team and a different unit.”
Who knew the early makings of a champion would begin, of all places, on the beach.