Champions. The Wellington Wildcats fourth-grade team won the
Fort Collins Baseball Club tournament on July 25. Team
members are (front row) Darian Cordova, Parker White, Dan
Carrol, Tate Bornhoft, Damian Cordova, Vlady Clark, (back
row) JT Erickson, Ben McGrew, Ethan Conyers, Taylor Gaes,
Will Daknis, Brody Svehla, Manny Casey, James Houdeshell and
coaches Steve Clark, Shannon Gaes and Jim Conyers.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Gaes
Say “Go Wildcats!” and many instantly think of Disney’s “High School Musical” fictional basketball team.
Say “Go Wildcats!” in Wellington (Colorado), though, and anyone who knows a fourth-grader immediately associates the mascot with a real baseball team — a really good baseball team — the best in its league, in fact.
The Wellington (Colorado) Wildcats fourth-grade team captured the local spotlight July 25 by winning the Fort Collins Baseball Club tournament at Rolland Moore Park. Wellington (Colorado) shut out Werner 6-0 to bring home the city champion trophy for its age group.
Coach Shannon Gaes and assistant coach Jim Conyers are a formidable, and familiar, coaching duo in Fort Collins athletics.
“I met him in football,” Gaes said of his assistant baseball coach, with whom he swaps duties for football and basketball. “We share the same philosophy: sportsmanship first, then we go all out on learning the fundamentals. We do not skimp.”
As proof of the coaches’ emphasis on sportsmanship, their football and basketball teams have won CHAMP (CHaracter in Athletics Make it a Priority) Elite Team Awards.
“Good sportsmanship is absolutely number one over everything else,” said Gaes.
A typical Wildcat practice lasted two hours twice a week in preseason, then switched to weekly outings once games started.
“We run. A lot. We’d throw the ball around and make sure everyone was doing it correctly: step and throw,” recounted Gaes. “We’d handle fly balls and everyone would bat. Batting was a big part of every practice. You can’t win if you can’t score.”
Gaes said he, Conyers and the Wildcats were blessed to have a wealth of parental support, including Steve Clark who helped whenever and wherever he could.
“Steve was one of the parents who went above and beyond,” Gaes said.
Gaes said he knew he had a potentially winning team as soon as the boys assembled in Wellington (Colorado) for their first practice. He did have four returning players, but there were three boys who had never played organized baseball and two others who hadn’t played since their T-ball days.
“I had wonderful expectations,” Gaes said. “The boys were all talented. Plus, I had five pitchers. It’s a coach’s dream to have that kind of pitching strength.”
One of Gaes’ “newbies” turned out to be star pitcher Manny Casey, who led the way for the Wildcats in the championship game. At this level of play, pitchers are allowed on the mound for three innings. Taylor Gaes, the coach’s son, picked up where Manny left off.
According to his coach, Taylor has one of the strongest arms in the league. The fact that Taylor had only two hits on him all season is proof that isn’t just a proud papa talking. To hear Taylor tell it: “I like pitching. I really like striking people out.”
Like father, like son, teamwork is this 10-year-old’s favorite part of the game.
“We really do like each other,” Taylor said of his teammates. “We’re all pretty competitive. We like to win.”
Taylor’s a well-rounded athlete, who puts that powerful young arm of his to work when quarterbacking. He’s also a capable running back, and participates in anything and everything rodeo-wise. He shares a love of horses with his 7-year-old sister Alysa, a soon-to-be second-grader at Eyestone.
The Gaes family lives in Livermore but opts for school of choice at Eyestone since wife and mother, Dawn, works at Creative Kids Corner in Wellington (Colorado).
Shannon Gaes is an electrical engineer who spends a lot of his time in Rock Springs and Casper, Wyo. Not only does he somehow manage to coach his son in three sports, but he’s looking forward to coaching his daughter in flag football this fall.
“My boss is very, very nice,” Shannon Gaes said. “It’s hard, but I’m blessed to work where they believe in family first.”
Wanting to spend time with Taylor is what prompted Gaes to get into coaching, something his son in turn appreciates, even if it’s not always easy being the coach’s kid.
“He’s a little tougher on me,” Taylor acknowledged as his father nodded in agreement, “but it is fun getting to spend time with Dad.”
“I like spending time with all the kids. I know I am harder on Taylor,” Gaes admitted. “I’m a very strict coach. One thing I can’t stand is, ‘I can’t.’ It drives me nuts.”
The Wildcats’ only loss this summer was to Dunn, a team they had previously blanked 9-0.
“It helped us as a team to lose that game,” said Gaes. “We were getting too cocky; that was our dose of reality.”
The Gaeses have endured more than their share of real life lessons. When a fire totally destroyed their Alta, Iowa, home in 2003, the young family packed what was left of their belongings in a single vehicle and headed west to Colorado where Shannon’s father lived. Now the couple who started dating in junior high school can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The Wildcats are planning a team party and family scrimmage in Wellington (Colorado) on Aug. 22. As for next year, Gaes is hoping to see a lot of the same boys come out as fifth- and sixth-graders.
These Wildcats may be years away from high school, but they sure know how to make a bat sing.