Four coaches band together to help young athletes

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AYS coaches, from left, Eric Gemelli, Shawn Fanjoy, Derek Armandi and Marc Kelvey have devoted much of their time to youth athletes from Livermore Falls, Livermore and Jay. (Submitted photo)

JAY — They are four fathers who have become coaches for all seasons.

Actually, Derek Armandi, Marc Kelvey, Shawn Fanjoy and Eric Gemelli are never out of season. The dynamic foursome coach year-round, with barely enough time to catch their breath in between work and home.

A good night’s sleep is sometimes just a dream for these intrepid coaches.

This band of fathers has brought the youth of three communities — Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls — together and unwittingly tossed in a combined lesson of volunteerism and civics during their tenure as coaches.

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All the coaches have a vested interest in this endeavor because their children also participate in the extended sports seasons with other children who love sports.

Planning for the future

The fathers eventually became good friends. They also share a common bond as coaches who are determined to extend each of the three sports seasons with the help of Area Youth Sports (AYS) to make young athletes, ranging from ages 8 to 11 years old, more competitive. They also coach AYS in-house teams.

“There are kids who do miss the end of a baseball or basketball season or football season. They wish there was more,” Armandi, a 35-year-old engineer, said. “AYS will set them (camps) up and you go there for a couple of hours for three or four days. But what we are doing is trying to extend the season whenever we can in every case.

“But there are other areas that are doing more. Compared to other towns, we are kind of letting our kids down just by that comparison.

“If money is the issue, we will find sponsors. If time is the issue, we will get times. It has been kind of a ‘it takes a village’ mindset. For baseball, we are doing all-stars, things like that, but we have four coaches, and when one of us can’t make it … we are there to back them up.”

When an AYS sports camp ends, the four volunteer coaches go to work organizing practices, scrimmages and searching for tournaments in nearby communities.

“It is a long summer and some of the kids are giving up summer vacations with their families to go to a baseball tournament,” he said. “The parents also have to commit, obviously.”

Growing up, Armandi didn’t have the same opportunities as his son Austin, 11, now does. Life consisted of pick-up games and playing baseball in Derek Armandi’s front yard with his brothers and friends. 

“You drive by today and nobody is out,” he added.

Stepping up their game

Kelvey, a 32-year-old draftsmen at Bessey Design, wanted to do more for his son Owen, 9, and other kids in the area when it came to sports.

“My son plays every sport. He loves sports,” Kelvey said. “He loves school and we are always on the run. At first, it is fine. They are in pre-K playing a little bit of T-ball and soccer. All of sudden, they are making friends and years go on and they get a little bit older.

“I have been a part of this group for five years. To see the growth in five years is pretty amazing. Us as coaches should be the motivators, but I think we make the extra time out of house ball (AYS) because we think this group is pretty special, especially the third-grade class. The parents get along. We motivate each other, too.

“Growing up in Jay, the mills were pumping and we had a lot more kids and teams. Those were kind of the glory days. Fast forward to current times, we have less and less kids every year, less funding, less volunteers. So it was like, let’s get more involved outside the footprint of AYS with the third- and fourth-graders.”

Like his counterparts, Kelvey wants athletes who participate in the extended-season programs to step up their game.

“We are here to win ball games and be competitive,” Kelvey said. “This is different from in-house ball (where everybody plays). So we are going to push the kids a little bit harder. We do expect a lot out of this group and they do expect it from themselves. They want to play better; they want to travel.”

The year-round seasons are producing players who are excelling because of four guys who believe more time on a diamond, court or football field means better and more competitive athletes.

“The main thing I like doing about the extended season, no matter what sport, the light bulb always turns on at the last game,” Kelvey said. “Everyone is flying around. Everyone knows what they are doing. We want to ride that wave to an all-star team. You should see the growth of this team.”

Some of the coaches were invited to participate in 207 Football, where Mark Feith conducted coaching clinics in Auburn. Kelvey and some of the other coaches found the camp enlightening.

Fanjoy, a 32-year-old special education at Leavitt Area High School, was considering moving out of the community until he hooked up with these dedicated dads.

“There is not a whole lot around unless you look for it,” Fanjoy, who is also a junior varsity coach, said. “I want to make sure what is best for my kid.

“Friendships are important, and getting them off the Xbox is important.”

After sitting in the stands and watching his son Gavin, 8, playing a sport, Fanjoy met Kelvey. When Armandi went on vacation, Kelvey asked Fanjoy to help him coach the team for a couple of weeks. Fanjoy wasn’t sure how it would feel coaching athletes at this age.

“We started up a friendship and we had a common interest in sports and get everything we can for our kids,” Fanjoy said. “They are not only seeing me as Gavin’s dad but as their coach and it is a good feeling to kind of have.

“What really is inspiring is the turnout of athletes coming out. I think it is getting more kids excited.”

Permission to come aboard

When Gemelli, a 34-year-old project manager, decided to coach, the coaches welcomed the Winthrop native.

“Eric is from Winthrop. He coached baseball with us this year,” Kelvey said. “With his job, he couldn’t really invest in being a coach that much. So he is more like a volunteer.

“His job has changed a little bit to afford some freedom. I’ll tell you what, I like coaching with that guy. He helped us coach Cal Ripken this year. He is a great baseball coach, very knowledgeable. He is another good pickup.”

“He was just another we found and recruited in a way,” Fanjoy said. “He has definitely been a good edition to the team.”

Like all the coaches, Gemelli has an opportunity to guide his son, Blake, 10, at the camps. He also sees coaching as a higher calling and a chance to make a difference in kids’ lives.

“Personally, it helps me forget all the other stuff that is going on like in general,” Gemelli said. “The enjoyment of watching the kids improve and knowing that we are, I guess you could say, we are donating to their lives.

“It is hard to explain, I guess. Knowing that I made a temporary impact, whether it is my kid or any other kid. If I can get one kid who is having trouble with one thing and help him to improve that one skill, then I am happy. That’s what I get out of it.”

Gemelli said there is no question that these young athletes have improved thanks to the extension of each sports season.

“It is getting the ‘want,’ the want to be there … so we set it up for the kids who want to improve, want to have that drive to become good, young athletes and gentlemen and things of that nature, (and they are) the ones who show up,” Gemelli said. “If they want to improve their abilities, we want to give them the time to do that. The improvement we have seen in some of the players is unreal.”

Gemelli, who has been working with the team’s catchers, said it is a privilege to work with the other coaches.

“The big thing is we all share the common interest in furthering our kids’ abilities as athletes and young gentlemen,” Gemeilli said. “When we get them at this age is where the discipline really starts.

“Mark is really good about the contacts. He is really good about setting things up. He talks to people and gets us scrimmage here and there … I am happy to be a part of it.

“All I really wanted is a dad looking on to help, and now I can help. The fact that I am helping is welcomed with open arms.”

Getting along and juggling schedules

The coaches’ love of sports and their lofty goals made them jell as a foursome.

“Everybody has the same mentality as far as coaching philosophy and the expectations you have for the kids,” Armandi said. “We hang out each other’s houses on the weekends. We want to see kids have that kind of success in high school.”

Gemelli said his long commutes as an onsite project manager supervising the laying of underground piping was a time constraint for him.

“That’s eight hours a week I was traveling (to projects),” Gemelli said. “I was lucky some nights if I made it into my own bed and woke up with a couple of cookies on my chest.”

But all four acknowledged that juggling family schedules to accommodate the players wouldn’t have worked without the help of their devoted wives and other parents who make sure their kids show up for practice and games.

“The moms deserve credit, too,” Kelvey said. “A great group of moms. It really does take a village. There are sleepovers. There are a great group of dads. There are also a great group of mothers.

“All the mothers work. They all get along and they are constantly figuring out the schedule every night. We like to thank our sponsors for making the Fenway Tournament possible.

“We are a pretty good group because of that. We are all in this together because of the growth these kids are having.”

Members of the AYS 10U All-Star baseball team are, front row from left: Austin Armandi, Hunter Rocque, Camden Smith, Dylan Jewett, Caden Frazier and Gavin Fanjoy; middle row: Owen Kelvey, Matthew Harding, Levi Richards, Johnathan Leigh Jr., Zachary Burgess and Blake Gemelli; back row: coaches Marc Kelvey, Derek Armandi and Eric Gemelli. (Submitted photo)

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