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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 20, 2002

New coaches' ways wins games and hearts

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KAHALU'U — Last year the Kahalu'u Blue Jays youth baseball team finished last in their league. The situation was so discouraging that parents considered disbanding the team.

A return to baseball fundamentals and a nurturing attitude helped coaches Craig Mills and Simeon Guzman transform the Kahalu'u Blue Jays from worst to first in their league and earned them the respect of players and parents.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

They're glad they didn't.

This season, two staff sergeants from Hickam Air Force Base helped the Blue Jays complete a worst-to-first turnaround with a 15-1 record and the division championship.

But while coaches Simeon Guzman and Craig Mills molded the team of 10- to 12-year-olds into winners on the field, it was what the two did off the field that impressed parents the most.

The men, both single and 28, bought professional-style uniforms for the team and trophies to award players at the end of the season, spending about $3,000 of their own money to go with $500 from the league.

They also took the boys on outings and hosted pot-luck parties at their home in nearby Ahuimanu.

Though they were new to the community, Mills and Guzman treated the children as if they were their own, said Josie Agres, mother of one of the players. The two were generous, easygoing and personable, she said.

"They created a positive atmosphere for the kids to do well," said parent Abby Paredes. "The kids were all excited to play."

The two weren't even looking to coach a team. When they stopped at a Kahalu'u Little League sign-up table, they just wanted to know where the teams played so they could watch a little local baseball.

They ended up being recruited to coach the Blue Jays.

"They just gave it to me on the spot," said Guzman.

Paredes said the parents knew their kids could compete because last season they were always ahead and lost in the late innings.

Because of the team's potential and because it would be the last year together for many of the kids, parents decided to keep them together, said Paredes.

Guzman said the six returning players were talented but lacked fundamental skills. So they started with more practices and more work on the basics, along with a philosophy of taking the game seriously but having fun playing it.

"If they do something wrong, we say, 'Shake it off,' " he said. "We never downgraded them. We had an attitude of 'Don't worry about it.' "

The coaches never yelled when players made a mistake, said Blue Jays team member Corey Paredes, 12. "Our coaches would encourage you and say, 'Come on, Corey, get the next one.' If you missed a ball, other coaches would yell."

Mills grew up in North Carolina, where his mother played and coached wo-men's softball, and later played two years of college ball. He said he brought the Blue Jays a style of playing fast and hard.

The kids quickly picked up the techniques — and picked on his Southern accent, he said. But it was all in fun.

Winning the championship was a combination of talent, maturing children and good coaching, Paredes said.

"I'm a true believer that people will ... do their best if they're in a nurturing and positive environment," she said.

This season, the team had what it took. In at least seven of their 16 games, the players had to rally to win.

Mills downplayed the coaches' role in the championship.

"It was all the kids," he said. "All we did was put them in the positions and they did the rest."

Agres said the coaches did a lot more than that.

"These are the first two coaches that opened their home to us, like true local people," Agres said. "They were more than coaches. They're like the local people — warm from the heart."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.