Charlie O’Mealy tried out for River Dell’s baseball team as a freshman and was hit by the three-letter word that every athlete fears:
He was more than disappointed. He had worked so hard to prepare. And his parents had dedicated so much of their time to help him.
Yet O’Mealy refused to let the pain of being C-U-T stop him.
“Never give up,” O’Mealy said. “It’s just a bump in the road. You should use it as motivation, and you should carry on and you should just work harder. You shouldn’t get down on yourself. You can always come back.”
Now a junior, O’Mealy has reaped the rewards of two years of working on hispitching, hitting and fielding.After a sophomore year spent on junior varsity, he is a pitcher and outfielder on the River Dell varsity.
“We always encourage kids to ‘Go get better and come back and give it another shot,’” River Dell baseball coach Brandon Flanagan said.
Even some world-classathletes were cut from teams during their younger years. The most famous exampleis Michael Jordan, arguably the best player in NBA history, who as a sophomore in 1978 was cut from his varsity basketball team. He then went home and cried.
'Give it another shot'
Players should not be deterred by an initial C-U-T, say coaches and athletic directors interviewed for this first in a series of stories by NorthJersey.com and The Record focusingon dealing with cuts, playing time and injuries.
Instead, players should speak with their coaches and find out what they need to work on to get better for the following season.
“You definitely try and provide some constructive criticism for how they might be able to improve their game and have a better chance of making it the following year,” said Denis Nelson, River Dell’s athletic director and a former coach.
“And the message is always, ‘I applaud you for coming out for the team, and I give you credit,’” said Greg Butler, Northern Valley at Demarest athletic director and a former coach.“Because for the person who doesn’t even try out, they never have an opportunity to succeed, or to make the team.”
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Cresskill oversees its middle school programs, and coaches try to meet with players who don’t make the team.
“The head coach would go down and work with the middle-school coach to evaluate,” said Beth Del Vecchio, Cresskill’s athletic director and a former coach and AD at Paramus Catholic.
“And then they would meet with the kids, and that’s how they would learn whether they made the team or not. And at the same time, they would talk about strengths, weaknesses, and those kids who didn’t make it, talk about some things they can do between now and next year if they want to try out again.”
Coaches' tough decision
Coaches agonize over who to cut almost as much as players anguish over whether they will be cut. Some coaches even keep an extra player or two, at the risk of hurting team chemistry.
“That’s part of a coach’s job, the team selection, especially when you have to tell some kids they aren’t able to be part of the team at all,” said Nelson, who is also a Pequannock graduate and former multi-sport coach at West Morris. “It’s probably the most difficult and least pleasant part of any coach’s job.”
“That’s probably the worst part of the job,” said Passaic Valley athletic director Rob Carcich, a Hasbrouck Heights graduate and former coach at Palisades Park, Westwood and Passaic Valley.
“As a coach, I’m sure I missed on a couple of kids that we didn’t keep that I probably could have, or should have," Carcich said. "Going back to my coaching days, we cut a kid, and he comes back sophomore year and ends up starting as a senior. They get better.”
Difficult on the families
Finding out your son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister has been cut can be a hard pill to swallow. It’s especially difficult nowadays, because families are committing more time and money toward their child’s sports career.
“The biggest thing I see now with cutting is that the kids and the family have invested so much more time into developing their skills, and to be part of the team, that the cut is more devastating for the family,” said Butler, who is salso a former coach at his alma mater, Bergenfield, as well as at Don Bosco and Demarest.
“It’s always difficult for the actual athlete to be cut, but I see the impact more so on the family, because of the investment that they have made, whether it’s driving their kids all over the state, or the money for training. So I think that’s where some of the ill feelings come about also, whether it’s a cut, or lack of playing time.”
“Youth sports over the past few decades have become a billion-dollar business, and parents have invested a great deal of time, money and energy into their children’s youth experience,” Nelson said.
“And that doesn’t always translate into the high school experience, because they’re paying for the youth sports experience, but there isn’t that payment factor for participation, typically, at the high school level. I have a parent who said, ‘My son’s AAU coach says he’s great.’ And I said, ‘If you keep sending him checks, he’s going to keep saying that.’”
When your child has been cut
John O’Mealy, Charlie’s father, was hurt more by that cut during freshman year than his son.
“To be honest with you, he got over it a lot faster than I did,” said John O’Mealy, a 1978 Saddle Brook graduate who played baseball for the Falcons. To make matters worse, John coached Charlie in youth baseball.
“I remember the thing I was most concerned with was that it was going to hurt his confidence in the other things going forward,” said John O’Mealy. “I had been his coach all the way through eighth grade, and I realized at that point I had to stop being his coach and start being his dad. And so the first thing I did was give him a hug and said, ‘Don’t let this define you.’”
O’Mealy was asked what advice he would give parents whose child has been cut:
“Just be positive,” he said. “They’re going to grieve for a little while. They’re going to be disappointed, but kids tend to bounce back better than parents give them credit for. And sometimes I think we take it harder than they do, because you just want the best for your kid. But just support them and don’t let it define them.”
Charlie the Golden Hawk
O’Mealy’s versatility earned him a spot this season on the Golden Hawks’ varsity, following a solid sophomore year on the junior varsity during which he threw a five-inning one-hitter in his first start.
The 5-foot-9, 150-pound right-hander can start or come out of the bullpen, and he also plays the outfield.
“One of the things we tried to get him to do was to be more aggressive,” Flanagan said. “He was a little passive. Even now, with me, one of the things I’m always after him about is, ‘Listen, you’re talented, when you get the chance, you can’t be thinking about screwing up. You’ve got to go and do what you do.’”
“I want to pitch a lot of innings, get a couple of wins, and hopefully the team keeps winning,” O’Mealy said. “I want to stay healthy and consistent, keep coming back out and giving it my all. Don’t get down on myself and just keep continuing.
“And next season, also, just the same thing. Keep continuing, coming out with confidence, keep building more confidence, and hopefully we can win a lot more games.”