The Georgia Strikers
One practice is all it took for the Georgia Strikers Travel Baseball Team to win the Edward Piszek European Championship in Kutno, Poland. A team created of 12 boys from various Bulloch County schools represented America at the tournament in Europe and returned to Statesboro with the title of International Champions.
“We win together, we lose together, we stay together,” Daniel Czech, Georgia Strikers Head Coach and Professor of Sports Psychology, told the team before the final championship game against Russia.
The Strikers dominated their competition throughout the tournament, while maintaining their fun, fundamentals, and family team values. For many of these boys, the eight day trip was the first time they had left the USA.
Agnes Ciesielka, Czech’s former foreign exchange student, and her family made the entire trip possible along with the fundraising support of the Statesboro community.
“This family sacrificed their lives for an entire week to make this trip memorable for us,” Brandon Williams, Senior Pastor of Connection Church and parent of player Dake Williams, said. The Georgia Strikers and their parents were grateful for the Ciesielka family’s hospitality.
They helped lessen the language barrier by serving as chaperones and travel coordinators throughout the trip stated Robbie Dollar, parent of Walker Dollar.
“It was very evident they had a tremendous amount of pride in their country and wanted us to absorb as much of their culture as possible in the limited amount of time that we were there.”
Sightseeing began during their flight layover in Amsterdam, when the team took a scenic canal tour. They traveled to the Warsaw Uprising Museum and several World War II museums including the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum.
“You could sense the need for reverence with what took place there. Nobody said anything, you could of heard a pin drop,” Williams said. The boys walked away from these places of tremendous importance with a new understanding of world history. Parents and coaches felt the impact resonated with the team.
The Strikers also explored historical landmarks such as the Royal Castle, the official home of the Polish monarchs, and the Wawel Castle, containing the largest collection of Ottoman art in Europe.
Before returning to Warsaw, the team traveled to Krakow where they met a girl’s softball team from the Ukraine. While touring they came across a graphic display of the crisis in the Ukraine and, “It made it all real that these people are no different from us,” Williams said.
Taking teenagers to historical museums could be a challenge and they may not appreciate or respect what they are seeing Czech said, “but it was the perfect trip!” The team impressed their coaches with their polite behavior, exceptional focus, and high level of interest.
In their travels throughout Poland, the boys discovered beet soup and other typical Polish dishes. Coach Czech joked the team made many stops at McDonald’s along the way to the town of Kutno, site of the tournament.
The Strikers and their coaches quickly realized water was carbonated in Poland.
“Brandon was so thirsty he drank a whole bottle of water in one gulp and from the look on his face we immediately knew something was off,” said Joe Westerfield, CPA and Assistant Coach of Georgia Strikers. “That was when we learned how to say ‘water without gas’ in Polish.”
Head Coach Czech had been in contact with the Operation Mobilisation Missionary, a church in Poland under the Pentecostal Union. The church boldly accepted the offer of a helping hand from “a complete stranger, a baseball coach from the USA who was bringing a group of teens and parents to their town for a baseball tournament,” Arek and Donna Delik, Operation Mobilisation Church Leaders, said.
During breaks between matches, the Georgia Strikers would jump on the bus, travel to the church in their uniforms, and begin working. They dug ditches, pulled weeds, painted, and cleared the courtyard of the church to pave way for a new playground.
Arek and Donna Delik wrote in a newsletter, “Sometimes we are amazed how God brought complete strangers into our path to bless us, yet we realized that there are no strangers in Christ.”
The boys also hosted a baseball clinic for a group of children of a nearby school. Czech spoke about baseball techniques and presented the kids with American Major League baseball cards. After the clinic, the Georgia Strikers signed autographs and took pictures with their newfound fans.
“They were treated like kings,” said Williams. All the adults watching were amazed at how the boys quickly overcame the language barrier. “They all came together. They didn’t need the language,” Sherri Dollar, parent of Walker Dollar, said.
Coaches saw the tremendous growth among individuals and a stronger team bond. Keyshawn Lee, of William James Middle School, whom the Polish recognized as a star, was one player affected.
“I have coached him for a while. He is usually very shy and quiet, but after this trip, I could see Keyshawn’s personality shine.” Through this transcultural experience, Lee developed a new sense of confidence and assurance in his talent.
The team’s final destination was the city of Kutno in Poland and the location of the biggest sport complex for youth baseball and softball in Europe. The complex is composed of two Little League stadiums and covers over 44 acres of land. The Strikers stayed as a team in the dormitories of the Edward Piszek Complex and enjoyed participating in competitive recreational games against other groups in the evenings.
“There was one specific rec game between the Russian girls and our boys, when the girls almost beat them in a basketball game,” Czech said.
The Russians were ready to play the Georgia Strikers in the last baseball game of the tournament.
“We thought they would be easy like the other teams,” Czech said. “We were very confident and that came back to hurt us significantly.” At the bottom of the ninth inning, the Strikers found themselves losing to the Russians 9 -6 with two strikes and two outs. Showing true American spirit the Strikers did not give up.
“Just wait you never know what could happen,” Norbert Ciesielka, Polish national baseball coach, said.
Davis Lamb, of Swainsboro Middle School, was the first to get on base. Davis Wiggins, of William James Middle School, and Tyler Thornton, of Southeast Bulloch Middle School, followed his lead and before they knew it, the Georgia Strikers moved to the top in the last inning.
Slade Burgin of Southeast Bulloch Middle School, the MVP of the tournament, sprinted towards home plate and collided with the Russian catcher knocking him down. The Russian catcher powerfully gripped the ball never dropping it.
The Strikers took to the outfield to finish the game. Tyler Thorton, their number one pitcher, threw nine strikes in a row. They recovered and continued on to prevail over the Russians with a 10-9 win.
The International Champion Georgia Strikers returned to Statesboro triumphant. Since returning, the team advanced on to win the title USSSA Georgia State Champions of 2014 in McDonough, GA. Georgia Strikers coaches are interested in continuing the international experience with a trip to Vietnam, where they will compete against baseball teams from the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, and Vietnam in June of 2015.