By: Matthew Beaird '15
For many students, their experience with teachers is limited to the classroom. For Servite baseball players, they've discovered a way to invite teachers into their lives outside school hours: a first-pitch ceremony.
This new tradition is strengthening the connection between baseball student-athletes and their instructors. It begins with players selecting their favorite teachers for the honor of firing out the first pitch prior to home games.
"It gives back to teachers by saying, 'This is one of the teachers who inspired me most or has meant the most to me,'" Head Coach Shawn Gilbert said. "I have heard nothing but positive feedback since we started doing it."
Three years ago, baseball team parent Michelle Woinarowicz, Mother of Matt '15 and Mark '17, envisioned this new tradition after seeing other schools with a similar pre-game ritual. Not sure how these schools organized their ceremonies, she decided to run with the idea and trust it would be a great fit.
"Being a teacher myself, it's nice to be recognized," Woinarowicz said. "I thought it would be fun to recognize teachers who have been so instrumental in our boys' lives."
Her idea has become a fixture at home games. In its first year, the process began with seniors extending invitations and writing letters of appreciation to teachers. On game day, players walk to the mound with their teacher and catch the pitch. Teachers then find their seat of honor in the stands where they receive a gift bag filled with baseball goodies and letters from players.
For teachers like Laura DiCrisi (pictured left), the first pitch ceremony is a unique way for players to show how much they value education and the ones who are making a difference in their lives. As a result, teachers gain validation for their hard work and a great sense of appreciation.
"When I come home at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied in what I do and to know it's appreciated, to know all the work you're putting in, to get that back from kids is really cool," DiCrisi said. "It's very humbling and it's an honor to be asked."
DiCrisi, who was the first teacher selected to throw out the first pitch, understands many of her students are challenged by the task of balancing school work and playing a sport. By accepting the call to throw out the first pitch and being in the stands, she shows students how they always have her support.
"I feel like it makes me a better teacher in the classroom when the boys know I support them in all aspects of their life," DiCrisi said.
Players enjoy the chance to cheer on their teachers throwing out the first pitch. Most of all, they see the importance of the ceremony in passing on their gratitude.
When it came time for Michael Frias '17 (pictured at the top of the article) to choose his teacher, he picked history teacher Oscar Fabian. After having his class and often eating lunch in his classroom, it was an easy decision to honor someone who welcomed him and helped him learn more than just the subject at hand.
"He's someone I turned to when I needed help in school and for life advice," Frias said.
Only seniors get to choose who participates in the first pitch ceremony and they want to make sure this tradition is here to stay. With brotherhood as a core charism of the school, the first pitch ceremony helps players and teachers feel part of the Servite community.
"Servite is about the brotherhood, so that includes teachers," Frias said. "The connection between staff and students is really what makes Servite, Servite."
This season's round of first pitch ceremonies saw special moments that reflect just how far a sign of appreciation can go.
As a freshman, Mark Woinarowicz '17 knew if he had to pick any teacher to throw a first pitch, it would be history teacher, Chris Stewart. However, when it came to Woinarowicz's senior year, Stewart had retired. That did not stop the pitcher from sending his invitation and it certainly did not stop Miss Stewart who came out of retirement to deliver her first pitch.
Former strength and conditioning coach Matt Chandler (pictured right) also returned for the ceremony. Chandler often joked about throwing out a first pitch when working out the team in the weight room and Matthew Doan '17 seized the opportunity to grant his wish. The coach flew down from the University of Oregon to fire out a strike.
Primed for its fourth season, the first pitch ceremony continues to allow teachers and students to see each other in a new light. Athletes show their appreciation for help in their development while teachers receive appreciation outside the classroom for the hard work they do. It's become a reminder before the heat of competition of what matters most.
"There's always going to be people who stand out, people who helped guide you to get where you are," DiCrisi said. "The fact the school takes time to show appreciation, I think that's awesome."