For the past two years, Melrose (Mass.) Little League has recognized graduating high school seniors who got their start playing in the league and have continued to demonstrate a commitment to the Melrose community with a one-time scholarship to be used to further their education.
Each student applicant must compose an essay, no less than one page, describing his or her Little League® experience and any lasting, positive influence(s) received including, but not limited to, those that may continue to have a positive impact upon the applicant. The essays are submitted to Melrose Little League and reviewed by a select committee of the Board of Directors, who determine the winners.
This year’s winners are Katie Tarpey, Liam McCall, and Cole Lepler, and below are their award-winning essays.
My eight years of Little League experience has given me more than I could’ve asked for. Beginning from Tee Ball, and continuing through to the Major Division, I was able to play and compete with friends and family. I learned so many skills each year to make me better for the next, and I created memories and friendships that I still carry with me today. Playing in the Melrose National Little League has, without a doubt, made me the person I am today.
Throughout all of my years of baseball, I was very fortunate to have my dad (Steve Tarpey) as my coach. He was a role model on and off the field and was able to push me while cheering me on at the same time. I was also coached by John DeCecca for many years, which meant his daughter, Ella, would be my teammate. Ella and I played six years together and immediately became close friends. As we got older, we ended up being the last two girls in the league. We have kept a really close friendship since our first season together, and we were always there to cheer each other on. Every other year, I would also get to play with my younger brother, Matt. We had days where we would fight, but ultimately, we both learned from each other over the years. The DeCeccas became like another family to us. I still look up to Mr. DeCecca today, and am forever thankful to have had him and my dad be such encouraging role models to me.
The most memorable part of my Little League experience was my first home run in my last year. I remember pulling the ball so much that I thought it was a routine fly for the leftfielder. I began to run the bases in case there was an error, but as I rounded first I saw Coach DeCecca with both hands up in celebration. I was confused at first, but when I saw my teammates coming out of the dugout I knew I had hit it over the fence! I was absolutely ecstatic as my teammates crowded around me when I reached home plate.
As my dad had pointed out to me after the fact, it was even better that I hit a homerun off of my neighbor and childhood friend. After many years of hard work, I had finally hit a homerun as several other boys had begun to do. A few games later, Ella hit a home run, as well. It made me so happy that we both hit one in our time playing together!
All of this experience prepared me for my time playing high school softball. When I tried out for softball, I was just as strong and competitive as any of the girls there.
When I was younger, not only did I work hard in practices, but I would stay late and field with my dad. Coach DeCecca would throw to anyone who stayed for extra batting practice. This extra time helped me sharpen my skills.
Eight years of playing with boys gave me mental and physical strength that not everyone else has.
Oftentimes, I felt weaker, and the boys would perceive me as an easy opponent. Yet, moments like hitting a home run or striking out players from the other team would prove them wrong.
This created a drive in me to be better every time I step on the field. When I tried out my freshman year, I was unaware that Austin Prep’s softball team was a returning state finalist. Every year, our team had an outstanding record and made a long tournament run. Eventually by my junior year, we had claimed the title of state champions! I don’t believe I would have gotten any playing time or even made my school’s team if it wasn’t for my baseball experience. Not only did I learn basic skills and techniques, but I learned how to compete and always push myself to be the best I can be.
Katie will be attending Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, this fall and will be part of their 3+1 Communications program.
Growing up within the Melrose Little League system has shaped me into the person I am today and helped me to find the game that I fell so deeply in love with. I am certain that the lessons I learned playing baseball go beyond how to field a short hop or hit a high fastball. I learned not only about what it means to commit to a goal bigger than myself and how to work with my teammates to achieve it. As a member of Melrose National Little League, I will argue that of the three leagues at the time, we were the outright best. This healthy league rivalry helped me develop my competitive spirit, which has pushed me to outwork the next guy and really propelled me to succeed at each level that I have played at. This has extended beyond the ball field to school, music, and being a leader in my community.
Melrose Little League was the first environment outside of my home that allowed me to develop my own sense of belonging.
Out of the car and straight into a new place hidden by trees to the baseball mecca of Melrose: Conant Field. Filled with excited parents and hopeful kids, this was the perfect place to spend a beautiful spring afternoon or if you were lucky, a summer morning with the All-Star team or Jimmy Fund team. Melrose Little League is not just a baseball program, it is a place for kids to learn and develop attributes such as teamwork and loyalty that will go past the baseball field into the community. The lessons we learned at the field from our volunteer coaches were valuable life lessons, which helped kids develop humility, respect, and unity. Playing against our friends allowed us to have a friendly rivalry, but in the end, we were all just having fun and building long relationships that would last throughout high school and college.
Every year, I would look forward to the surprisingly brisk spring day of the Little League parade. Sporting our new hats and jerseys, we embodied a sense of pride and hope that this year would be just as great as last season or even better. The hat that we received would be on every kid’s head the next day at school and worn throughout the year until we got a new one next season. Even to this day when I get a new Melrose High School baseball hat and my jersey with 34 on the back, it brings back the same feeling of pride and love for the city of Melrose. I represent the city whenever I put it on, and that is because of the values I learned as a minor leaguer on the Marlins. The skilled coaches teach kids the important fundamentals and basics of the hardest sport in the world, not because they want to be recognized, but because each of them has a deep, steadfast love for the game of baseball. The love each one of them has for the game rubs off on us, and plants a seed for each kid. My coach when I was growing up through the league, Scott Moss, taught me the basics and instilled qualities of grit and determination due to his specific coaching style. He did not just hit us groundballs and expect us to teach ourselves, he was right there with us in the dirt, getting muddy and showing us the right way.
I had no idea that the Melrose Little League would have such a big impact on who I am, but it all hit me when the varsity team was included in the parade that every single one of my teammates had marched in when they were a kid. All the kids looked at us like we were the Nolan Arenados and Mike Trouts of Melrose. I was in the exact situation when the 2008 varsity team joined me in my first parade. I wanted to be one of them, and they really showed me who I wanted to become and the work I needed to put in to get there. I did not think I would get the opportunity to be a captain of my beloved Melrose baseball team when I was seven years old, but due to the traits that were drilled into me throughout the 10 years I was a part of the program, I am. I always looked up to Corey Bright and Ryan Long, and strived to be like them. They are only two examples of the many role models that I tried to emulate who came out of Melrose Little League, but there were plenty to choose from.
As I forfeit my senior season due to the pandemic, I look back to the home run derbies, the city series games, and just normal practices at Conant, and realize how lucky I was to have opportunities like these as a kid. I will take the lessons I learned from Melrose Little League to my next step in education as I continue to be a leader in the classroom, my community, and on the field.
Cole will attend Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, in the fall where he will major in Political Science and play intercollegiate baseball for the university.
My involvement in Melrose Little League has had a positive and ongoing impact in my life. It has helped me learn the importance and value of hard work, dedication, leadership and teamwork.
For example, when I started playing baseball, my skills were limited and weren’t as advanced as some of the other players on my teams. Instead of being discouraged by this, I practiced constantly, learned from my coaches, and worked hard on improving my game. As time passed, my pitching, hitting, and fielding abilities improved, and I became a valuable member of my teams, making all-star squads and emerging as a leader. Hard work and dedication to the sport have helped me develop a great love for the game, and have allowed me to continue my baseball career playing at Melrose High School and on AAU travel teams.
Little League has also taught me the importance of being a strong and supportive leader. I was lucky to have many great coaches during my Little League career like Cory Thomas, Steve Tarpey, John DeCecca, Paul George, Bill Curran, my dad, and many more. They were excellent role models for me and showed me the importance of building a strong team and leading by example. The lessons I learned through my coaches have helped me become a strong leader academically, as a member of the Melrose High School National Honor Society, and athletically as a captain of the Melrose High School cross-country team.
I think that leadership and teamwork go hand in hand. As a sports captain at Melrose High, I have used the lessons I learned playing baseball to make sure that everyone who is participating feels involved and is treated like a valuable and contributing member of the team. I have learned that even little things, like cleaning up after meets, getting the course ready for running, showing up to team functions, and cheering on your teammates during meets and practices all allow individuals to come together, work toward common goals, and become a team. When this happens, everyone benefits as the team is stronger and more successful, and the experience is more fun and rewarding.
One final benefit I learned from Little League is the importance of volunteering and helping out. As part of my high school community service, I volunteered with Melrose National Little League, assisting with team practices, helping with try outs, and working in the snack shack at Conant to help raise money for the program. Volunteering in these positions was helpful to the Melrose National Little League, but it also benefitted me as I learned the importance and value of helping and giving back.
To sum up, playing baseball with Melrose National was a big part of my life. It started out my love for baseball and gave me many benefits that I will carry with me as I move on to college in September.
Liam will be attending St. John’s University in New York City this fall to study marketing in the honors program at Tobin Business School.
To share your personal Little League story and experience, send an email to [email protected] with subject line “My Little League Story.”