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Cecchini Creates Championship H.S. Team

 First appeared in the Jan. 28, 2005 issue of Collegiate Baseball

 

By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

LAKE CHARLES, La. — Motivating baseball players to be champions in life and baseball is nothing new to Glenn Cecchini, one of the shining lights of wisdom in the sport.

Now in his 19th season at the helm of Barbe H.S. (Lake Charles, La.), he has learned about the coaching profession with a passion that is rarely found today.

A native Californian who grew up admiring legendary coaches such as John Wooden in basketball at UCLA and Tommy Lasorda in baseball with the Dodgers, he felt being a coach was a unique calling in life that could help kids grow as humans while playing sports.

His thoughts on coaching were sharpened even more when he moved to Louisiana and witnessed Skip Bertman at Louisiana St. University completely turn around a dismal baseball program into one of the most respected in the nation which ultimately won five national championships under his guidance. Bertman was the biggest impact as a mentor in Cecchini’s coaching career.

“You must first have a plan, and our plan was to commit ourselves to one another,” said Cecchini, who led Barbe H.S. to 5A state championships in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

During a five year period (1998-2002), Barbe H.S. appeared in the state championship game each year which was unprecedented on this level of baseball in Louisiana. During the 1998-1999 seasons, Barbe won 47 games in a row to set a state record.

“When I first started at Barbe H.S., people told me that it would be difficult to win here because it was a football school. Listening to Coach Bertman on many occasions, it dawned on me that everything counts in a baseball program. All the little things add up. So we went to work on having the best off-season weight program we could put together. We wanted the best field, locker room and coaching staff. Everything we could make better, we certainly tried to make it better.”

And how.

Barbe is one of the few high school programs in the nation that has an indoor practice facility which has all the comforts of home with air conditioning and heating.

“It measures 110 feet by 60 feet and is 6,600 square feet and features three batting cages (15 x 60) as well as two portable pitching mounds. We also have a weight room in the facility which is approximately 2,800 square feet. The entire floor of the facility is covered in artificial turf except the weight room which has expensive rubber matting ½ inch thick.”

Cecchini said the building and all elements that were put inside cost the school $70,000.

“But when you consider everything that was donated or given to us at big discounts, we received over $100,000 worth of material. About $15,000 in weight training equipment which was only a year old was donated to us along with paint and many other items.”

Cecchini was asked how in the world a high school baseball coach orchestrated the building of such a facility.

“We had a four-step fundraising process. First, we have advertising signs along our outfield. That brings in about $40,000 each year. We also sold endowments which brought in another $25,000. Over 100 people pledged to pay us $1,000 in four yearly installments of $250 each. Then we had a special auction which brought in $25,000. The auction included a number of remarkable items for sale.”

If that wasn’t enough, corporate sponsors of Barbe’s annual baseball tournament raises even more money which has attracted high school national powers such as Elkins H.S. (Tex.), Westminster Christian H.S. (Fla.) and Westminster Academy (Fla.) through the years.

Another revenue stream is the 12 foot x 29 foot billboard that faces the road near Barbe’s baseball field.

“It is a great PR advertisement for our baseball program and can be an intimidator when teams come in. It shows great accomplishments of our team over the years. Two corporate sponsors help us bring in $10,000 each year.

“Through all of these fundraising projects, we have conservatively brought in over $100,000.”

If that wasn’t enough, his program has a beautiful 2,700 square foot locker room which was built four years ago at a cost of $60,000.

It has a coaches’ office, coaches’ locker room, bathroom and shower in addition to a big uniform storage area, and training room. The baseball players enjoy luxurious digs as well with 40 finely crafted wooden lockers, a bathroom and showers. The facility also houses a 55-inch big screen TV so coaches can show different motivational videos to the team.

The head coach at Barbe, a perpetual non-stop dynamo, always has some project he is working on to make his program better. His latest is to renovate his stadium at a cost of $110,000 which will include chairback seating for 500 and a stadium overhang above the seats.

“We are currently selling permanent name plates for these seats at $90 each. This covers the coast of each seat. Then if people want to purchase season tickets, that will be $60 per year.

“The project will begin after the 2005 season and will be completed hopefully by next September or October.”

His commitment to his facilities are only a small part of what makes this giant in the coaching industry tick. He is all about improving young men on and off the field.

“As Coach Bertman said, you must first act on your plan then put your plan in action. A great plan is of no use unless it is put into action. Our plan is written in our contract and taped in the players’ and coaches’ lockers so we can see them live by them every day.”

3 Contract Commitments

“The first is the Golden Rule where you treat others the way you want to be treated. The second focuses on the team. Together everyone achieves more. It is always we before me. And the third is a commitment to excellence. This goes for everything we do.”

Cecchini attempts to shape the lives of his baseball players on a daily basis.

“We try to do what is right all the time as we treat our kids the way they want to be treated. The world is a better place if everyone could live by the Golden Rule. I will never forget the 1998 season when our ball club won our first state title. In our first 20 games, we were something like 15-5…which is very good. But we lost some games we shouldn’t have.

“At the time, I had a career-altering situation which changed me as a coach. We had a catcher who continually swung at curves in the dirt and struck out over and over again. I told him he was the ‘worst catcher I had ever had.’ I then saw tears in his eyes as I kept berating him. I said a lot of other things I shouldn’t have because I was frustrated.

“I couldn’t sleep all night because of what I had done to this young man. The next day, I brought the team together and apologized to them and to this deeply hurt player. I promised the team that the entire coaching staff from that moment on would still offer constructive criticism when merited but would not attack people in the fashion I had done. It was the coaching staff’s goal from that moment on to tackle problems in the following fashion. They would begin with a brief positive statement to a player followed by constructive criticism and the end with a positive statement. We were not perfect all the time at doing this, but it was a much better approach.

“This young man who I earlier berated began crying. It was an emotional moment that changed all of us. After that, we could not be stopped and went on to win the state championship. I grew up as a coach after that situation and learned that being overly negative can hurt your players severely.”

Because of the power of being positive, Cecchini now has every one of his coaches say something positive to each one of his players every day of school.

“It only takes five seconds to say something nice to your kids when you see them in class or in the hallway. You might praise the young man for his work ethic in practice or in the weight room. Or you might notice that his arms are getting bigger or something even as small mentioning a nice haircut.

“We have three coaches. Between us, we try to hit all our kids every day with a positive comment. But we sometimes miss a day here and there.”

Caring About Kids

Cecchini said other important areas he stresses to his coaching staff is to have a genuine interest and care about each player as they try to find out what the players’ dreams and goals are along with promoting players to college coaches, and pro scouts.

In addition, Cecchini feels it is vital to keep former players involved with the program and allow them to use the facilities which creates loyalty to Barbe H.S.

“When coaches give back in this fashion, your former players also give back. Allowing your former players to hit in the batting cages or work on some other aspect of their game helps them, and they not only want to come back but have a deep desire to help in some capacity. The young kids in your program notice how dedicated these players are. It is a win-win situation for everyone. Once you have a large number of people involved in your program, it becomes bigger than a coach. It becomes a community.”

Also, he never allows the team or player to leave a team function on a negative note. Cecchini always turns negative situations into positive challenges.

“Positive, enthusiastic attitudes are contagious.”

Commitment To Team

The head coach at Barbe H.S. is a firm believer that if you commit first to your players, your players will commit to you. If you show them respect, they will respect you in kind.

“We attempt to create a ‘we before me attitude as players are allowed to vote on the type of cleats worn by the team, color of shoes, team captains, where the team eats and at what time weight training takes place.

“It took me a number of years to realize it, but this is our team…not my team. If the kids vote to wear white, blue or black shoes, that’s fine with me. Nobody is bigger than the team, and that includes individual coaches and players.”

Barbe is unique in that players have voted to have weight training sessions before school starts instead of after practices. Then they can do their homework in a timely fashion and relax a bit before going to bed.

“Our kids didn’t really like weight training after long baseball practices. So in the past few years, they voted to lift prior to school starting which means getting up extremely early. But this is what they have voted to do and stuck with it. It doesn’t matter how they get their work done as long as they do it.”

Cecchini pointed out the concept of teamwork at the 2004 College World Series involving eventual national champion Cal. St. Fullerton.

“One thing I noticed was that every Cal. St. Fullerton player had their pant legs pulled up to the exact same height to expose more of their socks.

“With some teams, they will have players that have their pant legs pulled up near their knees while others on the team will have the pants pulled up half way to their knees and still others have the pant legs pulled down as far as they go next to their shoes.

“To me, what Cal. St. Fullerton players did was represent something bigger. Fullerton’s players showed me that nobody cared who was the star on their team. When Fullerton did anything, including when they stretched together, they did it precisely at the same time and same way. Nobody was bigger than the team with them. As individuals, they might not have been the most talented team in the field at last year’s College World Series. But as a team, they were nearly unbeatable.”

Talented Player Nearly Dies

One of the most gut wrenching episodes in Cecchini’s Coaching career took place shortly before the 2002 season.

“We had won the state championship in 2001 and had a star player returning for 2002. He was extremely close to my family. As a freshman in 2001, he seemed to get big hits all the time and hit over .500 in playoff games. He also pitched in the state championship game that year.

“In 2002, he hung around kids who used drugs, drank alcohol and broke rules. I disciplined him and finally gave him an ultimatum that he shape up or be dismissed from the team before the season started. He wouldn’t listen, so I had to let him go.

“In 2002, we lost the state championship game, 2-1, and there is no doubt in my mind that this young man would have made a difference in the outcome. We would have won the state championship three consecutive years if we had him with us. But his life was much more important than championships. I felt this program had to stand for something beyond wins. Even though he no longer had a chance to be part of our team, he stilled called me. This young man realized he forced me to make a decision I didn’t want to make.

“He was so addicted to drugs that he nearly lost his life. He was rushed to a hospital and was so close to death that he received last rights. It is a miracle he is alive today and has been clean for the past six months. But because of his involvement with a questionable group of friends, he has spoken to our team about how drugs gripped his life, and it is an important lesson. He got a second chance at life and has made the most of it. He now is playing college baseball.”

Modest Beginnings

Cecchini always shares goals with all team members and begins with the history of Barbe’s baseball program.

“I tell the kids that years ago nobody wanted to be involved with this program at all. The year before I took over, they won only one League game and a few contests the entire season. There were weed trees in the outfield, grass over a foot high, and everything looked dirty. It was almost like a SCUD missile had hit the area.

“Year after year, we did one project after another to spruce up the place. We would repaint one year, build cinder block dugouts another. We brought in new Bermuda grass, put in a new sprinkler system for the field and updated the locker room. It all took a great deal of time.

“That first year, we won 18 games and went to the quarterfinals. As the years rolled on, we won district and eventually state titles. We are now one of the most respected programs in the nation, and we all take a great deal of pride in that.

“Everyone wants to play at Barbe H.S. now with families even moving here. That first year brings back a lot of vivid memories. We picked up rocks off the field and paper around the field. All the kids did the first week of practice was cut down those weed trees. We only had one set of uniforms that were sild screened. But we have grown as a program through the years.”

Taking Ownership

Cecchini feels it is essential that his players take ownership in his program.

“Everyone involved with our program does field maintenance, and that includes all players and coaches. You may see the coaches cut and drag the field. Players might empty trash cans or pick up trash on the warning track. Others scrape lines so grass doesn’t grow in those areas. Others make sure the pitchers’ mounds and home plate areas are tamped and water properly. Everyone has a job so nobody has any resentment.

“We also have a big brother/little brother program. We try to match up older players with new players, and we try to do this wisely. If we have a new kid who is small, we may match him up with a veteran player who also is small. It allows the young guys to realize that big dreams can be accomplished through hard work. One time we matched up this extremely calm and collected veteran pitcher with a wild newcomer to our program who was extremely talented. I feel this program has helped quite a few kids adjust quickly to our program and feel part of the family.”

Another unique quality about Barbe H.S. is that Cecchini provides an avenue for weekly Bible study for player wishing to attend.

“This is not mandatory at all. But there is a strong, spiritual strength that kids can obtain from going to Bible study once a week for 20-30 minutes. A lot of coaches would be afraid to do this. But we only offer it to those who wish to attend. We don’t shove it down their throats, and it is non-denominational based.”

Helping The Community

His baseball team is expected to help with community service every year as well. Barbe players have gone to the Shriner’s Hospital every year in Shreveport to meet with kids who are physically disabled. They also have gone to the Boys and Girls Village to visit the elderly and sick.

In 1997, an ice storm nearly paralyzed the city of Lake Charles as large trees fell throughout the city and caused a massive problem. One of Barbe’s boosters suggested that the team travel into one of the low income areas of Lake Charles and help families in need.

“We had chain saws and this big truck,” said Cecchini.

“Our team helped clean up a bunch of downed trees with the permission of people in this neighborhood. We told them we were performing community service and were doing it for free. Then I knocked on the door of an 80-year-old lady and asked her if we could help clean up her yard. She said she didn’t have a husband and didn’t have a lot of money but still wanted to pay us. I told her it was free with no strings attached. She kept insisting that she do something in return by trying to give us a few dollars.

“Finally I told her that our school had never won a state baseball championship and that everyone would appreciate it if she prayed for us to do well in the future. She said she would be happy to do that.

“The next year, we actually did win that first state championship. I later talked to this woman, and she told me she prayed for our team every day after we helped her through her own personal crisis brought on by the ice storm.

“Performing community service is important for our kids and helps shape their values about what really is important.”

Team, Individual Goals

Cecchini then talked about how his team sets goals prior to the season.

“The players set season goals for the team and also for themselves individually. The team goals are broken down into pitching, offense and defense.

“Pitching includes categories such as ERA, runs allowed per game, hits allowed per games, strikeouts per game, walks per game, strike-to-walk ration, batting average, on-base percentage and runners per seven innings.

“The offensive categories include runs scored per game, hits per game, bunt hits per game, walks per game, strikeouts per game, hit by pitches, stolen bases a game, batting average and on-base percentage.

“The defensive team numbers we look at include fielding percentage, errors per game, stolen bases per game, double plays per game and past balls per game.”

Cecchini said a master goal sheet is posted in the locker room for all to see every day and includes the all-time Barbe H.S. records for each category, what the team stats were the previous season and what the goals are for the current season.

“After every game, I update the team statistics and go over each of them with our team to see where we are. When we make up the goals for these categories, I want them to be challenging but attainable. It is important to mention that the individual player goals are only addressed at the end of the year. Only team statistics are posted in-season.”

Motivation Essential

Cecchini said that motivating current players on the team is absolutely essential, and he has a number of ways to address the situation.

“We honor former players, display pictures of former Barbe H.S. players who now are playing in college or pro baseball. We also have a list of all-time records listed on our wall. Another thing we do is bring in guest speakers to motivate our kids whether it be former players or successful people in the community. They share stories of success and hope. I also have utilized some of the techniques Skip Bertman utilized at LSU as he gave motivational speeches to his kids prior to games.

“One of his famous talks was about Roger Bannister who in 1954 was the first person to break the 4-minute mile. Within two weeks, two other guys ran sub 4-minute miles. Then 13 runners broke the barrier shortly after that. It was all about conquering the mind. You can do anything you want.

“We show the kids motivational videos about winning the state championship.

“There are spectacular plays on defense, great pitching and superb hitting. We want our kids visualizing themselves doing things well. We give the players motivational handouts many days of the season.

“As far as dealing with failure, we have utilized a memorable story about one of the finest Americans of all time.

“In 1816, his family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.

“In 1818, his mother died.

“In 1831, he ran for the state legislature and lost.

“In 1832, he lost his job. He wanted to go to law school, but he couldn’t get in.

“In 1833, he borrowed money from a friend to begin a business, and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years paying off his debt.

“In 1834, he ran for the state legislature again and won.

“In 1835, he was engaged to be married, but his sweetheart died.

“In 1838, he sought to become Speaker of the state legislature but lost.

“In 1840, he sought to become an Elector but lost.

“In 1843, he ran for Congress and lost.

“In 1846, he ran for Congress again and won. He went to Washington and did a good job.

“In 1849, he sought the job of Land Officer in his home state and was rejected. In 1854, he ran for the U.S. Sensate and lost.

“In 1856, he sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his convention and got less than 100 votes.

“In 1858, he ran for the U.S. Senate again he lost once more.

“Then in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as President of the United States. He is considered one of the greatest presidents in the history of the nation. His entire life was one failure after another, and he never quit. There are numerous stories out there like this. Henry Ford went bankrupt three times before he became successful.”

Positive Self Talk Essential

Cecchini said he demands enthusiastic positive self talk from his coaching staff and his players. Negative talk is not allowed in games or practices.

“We also practice visualization with positive mental imagery. A great story involving mental imagery involved Major James Nesmith, a fighter pilot captured in Vietnam and put in an underground cave only 4 ½ feet high by 7 feet wide. He was given little food, water and bread. It was an absolutely filthy place with roaches and rats. Over time, the prisoners of war started to go crazy as they were beaten routinely.

“In his mind every day, he would play 18 holes of golf without skipping any detail. It might be a windy day or sunny with blades of grass blowing in the wind. Every shot in his mind was hit perfectly. Every chip was perfect as well as every iron. He never sliced or hooked his drives. All of his putts went in the hole. He did this seven days a week for 7 years, 52 weeks a year, 360 days a year.

“When he was finally released, he had lost 30 pounds and was extremely weak. He couldn’t wait to see his wife and kids. But he also wanted to play golf. After recuperating, he shop a 74 ― some 20 shots lower than he ever shot before.

“How could that be possible? He visualized and saw something successful and never missed anything. The power of visualization and positive thinking is incredible.”

Commitment To Excellence

The final phase of Cecchini’s program deals with contracts that every coach and player must sign.

He said the player’s contract covers multiple areas, including:

Ø    Academic excellence.

Ø    Players must conduct themselves with class.

Ø    Players set off-season strength and speed goals. He wants his varsity starters to run under 7.0 in the 60 yard dash, be able to bench press 250 pounds, squat 400 and clean 225 pounds.

Coach Cecchini gives every player a Self Evaluation Assessment before the season. He initially received this Assessment from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and added to it. Players fill in the bland on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest.

It asks kids if they are a complainer, hard worker and has them list the starting lineup by position, among other questions.

“One time a player felt he should be the starting shortstop while every other player on the team felt another kid should be the starter.

“So I approached this person who was not being realistic about his assessment and asked him if he would be able to be part of this team if he was not the starter. I wanted to know if this player could accept such a role.

“If he couldn’t, then he might be a cancer and complainer to others. The young man told me there was intense pressure at home from his dad to be the starter, but he personally could accept not being the starter.” Cecchini feels the Self Evaluation Assessment is a tremendous tool to find out the mental state of your athletes.

“Remember. Your players don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”

Words to remember from a champion in life on the field.

 

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