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Monroe Panthers Baseball Club's Ready for Prime Time

Youth baseball's perennial powerhouses can expect to a strong challenge from Monroe.

Imagine an ESPN telecast of the Little League World Series with Monroe's all-stars taking the field during an exciting run through the tournament that has the entire town riveted. That's something parents Mark McGovern and Matt Luke would love to see.

They are tired of seeing powerhouses from Fairfield and Trumbull dominate youth baseball leagues year after year, while waiting for Monroe's talented athletes to jell as a unit and beat them at the high school level.

"Our goal is to make the kids better — to compete with the Trumbulls and the Fairfields ... trying to get them to the next level," Luke said during an interview at the Monroe Diner Friday.

In response to demand from fellow Monroe parents, McGovern and Luke started the Monroe Panthers Baseball Club, a not-for-profit with 9U and 10U teams. The 10U team will compete in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) East Shore League this spring, while the younger team holds training sessions.

The Panthers Baseball Club is not affiliated with Monroe Little League nor Masuk High School. It is a separate organization for children to hone their baseball skills. It also teaches the importance of commitment, teamwork and individual accomplishment.

McGovern said all of the kids also play in Monroe Little League and that if there are any scheduling conflicts, Little League will always take priority.

The club's website says, "Above all, we teach our kids to play fair, strive to win and do their very best each and every time they play the game. Besides raising great athletes, we strive to raise responsible citizens and young leaders in the greater Monroe community."

Getting Things Going

Practices are held in the Panthers' Den on Pepper Street, which offers batting cages and artificial turf to practice on in an indoor facility.

"It was a huge jump-start for us," Luke said of The Den. "Otherwise, we would have had to practice out of town."

Luke said the club also uses a local vendor for its uniforms. Sportslook, which is owned by Monroe Lions head football coach Steve Christy, does the silk screening.

McGovern is president and treasurer of the Monroe Panthers Baseball Club and his wife, Anna, serves as secretary. The couple has two sons, Matt, 10, and Patrick, 9, who both play Little League ball. The brothers will play for the 10U team together.

"I never played an inning of baseball in my life," said McGovern. "And my boys are beyond where I can coach them anymore."

Luke's son Kevin, 10, also plays on the 10U team. Luke is vice president of the Monroe Panthers Baseball Club and coach of the 10U team.

Dana Garrity is the 9U coach.

The club was established on Dec. 20, and Luke credits McGovern for "making it his passion." McGovern worked to establish the club as a certified not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, eligible to receive tax deductible donations.

The Monroe Panthers Baseball Club is trying to raise money through donations to fund the 10U's season — covering training facilities rental, field rental and upkeep, coaching and umpiring fees, league fees, uniforms and equipment, and transportation.

The Secret Weapon

The AAU East Shore League season begins in early April and ends in early June, but Monroe could play deeper into June if it makes the playoffs and strings together some wins.

Luke and McGovern believe they have a secret weapon in the team's batting coach.

"We just signed Bob Olah," McGovern said. "We hope that generates some excitement."

Olah had played baseball at Notre Dame High School in Bridgeport growing up and in 1986 he was drafted by the New York Mets in the 28th round. He went on to play for five seasons in the minor leagues.

A parent, who had also played in the minors, knew Olah from having played softball together.

Prior to the Monroe Panthers Baseball Club, Luke said a number of Monroe kids joined teams in other towns to play in the AAU East Shore League. Now they will be able to play on a team right in their hometown.

"Staying with their friends and staying in their town, it was a no brainer for us to try to get things going," Luke said of establishing the club.

For information about the Monroe Panthers Baseball Club or to make a donation, visit the website.

Bill Bittar January 29, 2013 at 02:24 PM
There was a lot of info to cover. I just looked over my notes again and just added this line to the article: McGovern said all of the kids also play in Monroe Little League and that if there are any scheduling conflicts, Little League will always take priority.
Bradley Van Gemert January 29, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Monroe currently has several AAU Teams that draw exclusively from Monroe including the Fairfield County Captains with an 11U and 13U teams and the CT Revolution. Many area towns do this as well including Trumbull, Fairfield, Westport, Stratford, etc. It is a great way for players to get higher level training and experience.
jim laguardia January 29, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Having coached/managed I Norwalk little league 15+ years ago there was the same problem with so many different little leagues (long before they merged) and the splinter leagues the kids would not "Jell" until older but even then it was with 2 high schools and it would be during the summer leagues that they could compete with and beat the trumbulls of the world etc.... It is all a numbers game by only teaching "elite" players the coaches don't have to work with the kid dancing in the out field or worrying about each kid whether or not they can defend themselves against a thrown ball HAS to play first base at some point.... I personally don't like the idea of telling these kids they are "elite" then putting them back in Little League so they can judge the other kids, but that is my opinion.
Dawn Davis February 01, 2013 at 01:38 AM
Let me start by saying I'm not against this new baseball club coming to Monroe, assuming that the teams are not already hand-picked and all interested players would get a fair chance to try out. If a parent wants to pay the astronomical fee for such a team, go for it! However, I, too, received the e-mail mentioned earlier and feel there are better, character-building ways for the kids to raise money for these teams than soliciting PTO lists. Please remember, these are just kids, playing ball. So, what exactly is so wrong with giving all of the kids a shot at trying the different positions? What is so wrong with kids playing because.....hmmmm, I don't know......it's fun? IMHO if you are coaching kids for the championship ring, you're in it for the wrong reasons. " personally don't like the idea of telling these kids they are "elite" then putting them back in Little League so they can judge the other kids, but that is my opinion." And where are the kids learning that they are better than the rest and it is OK to judge others. I would think a good coach would stop this behavior. And wouldn't training these "elite" kids then sending them to MLL do just that?
jim laguardia February 01, 2013 at 06:20 PM
A coach of that age group in Little League has a hard time keeping the kids from climbing the fences (literally) they are not going to keep the "elite" players from repeating the things they have been taught by this other team..... you are better then them..... Who cares if the other town 12 year olds are better? They are 12 year olds. And like I said that was my opinion.

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