CANAJOHARIE — Monday evening, supportive community members lined village streets to cheer on the Section II Class C championship-winning Canajoharie baseball team during a parade held in their honor.
Monday’s parade was led by the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department and featured participation from various Canajoharie Central School groups and teams, the Ames Volunteer Fire Department, the Rural Grove Fire Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Canajoharie Police Department and MW Roosevelt and Son, Inc.
“It was a hell of a ride,” head coach Joe Brown said of the unique season preceding Monday’s celebratory event.
It was especially exciting to win with this group of student athletes, Brown said, as he’s been coaching them since they were junior varsity players.
“The atmosphere here is amazing,” he stated, attributing the team’s success not only to the students, but also their parents.
“This is the best group of parents I’ve ever coached for,” he said, also extending appreciation to the always-supportive community and assistant coach Joe Fowler.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Brown said of Fowler, who has been with the program for many years, even coaching the team in the lead capacity during one of this season’s sectional games.
Many members of the championship-winning varsity baseball team have been playing together since they were kids, explained parent Stephanie Montanye.
“These guys have played with each other since T-ball,” she said of her son, Riley, the team’s starting catcher, and his peers.
She explained that the team-members, because of that shared experience, “play great together.”
Members of this year’s team previously received community-wide accolades in 2015 upon winning the Little League NYS AAA Section 2 District 12 championship, an accomplishment that was displayed on the team’s float Monday.
Though they ultimately triumphed, Brown SAID that his team did face various COVID-related challenges this season.
“Dealing with all the new rules,” he said, was consistently demanding. The coronavirus pandemic forced the team to not only play a shortened season, but also significantly truncated pre-season practice.
While the team would normally have over a month to prepare “and get arms ready,” according to Brown, this year’s practice lasted only two weeks. The team then launched directly into the regular season, which Brown referred to as “a month-and-a-half marathon with three games a week,” and makeup games on Saturday.
“They worked their tails off since Little League,” Brown said.
Despite setbacks, Brown said he knew his team could potentially win the Class C Sectional Championship from the season’s outset.
“I asked them at the beginning of the year to buy in,” Brown said. He said knew that the varsity baseball team had the skill and drive to make great things happen, and never let them forget it.
“I told them, ‘if you believe, we’ll be here in the end,’” he said. “And they believed.”
Riley Montanye, who will enter his senior year at CHS in September, said he believed his team could potentially bring home a sectional win even prior to the start of this season.
“We were planning on all of this last year, but then COVID hit,” Montanye said. “We’ve been chasing this for two years, and it’s been a hunger in every single one of us.
“All the kids wanted to win this more than anything else. Every one here has been doing it for themselves and for the team.”
Canajoharie Central School District Superintendent Nick Fitzgerald expressed pride in the team’s accomplishment Monday.
“Any time you can get a sectional championship at any school,” he said, “it’s a big accomplishment. It’s great for the community and school district to see 350 people at a game and so excited to be a part of it.”
“I’m so happy for them to have this feeling,” Brown said. “It’s an awesome feeling, especially with this group. These kids are so special to me because I’ve been with them for so long, and just to see them come up and be this successful — I’m so proud of them.
“I’m so happy that they allowed me to coach them — to trust me and allow me to take this program where it needed to go.”