Witches brew up stares on trips

West Jersey's Gianna Pedone shows off her team's eye-catching uniform.
West Jersey's Gianna Pedone shows off her team's eye-catching uniform.

The motto says it all: Twelve players, one heart.

Coach Dawn Dimon said that's the way it is and that's the way it will always be as long as she's coaching the West Jersey Witches 14-and-under softball team from Florence, N.J.

And no matter where the teams plays, the white or yellow T-shirts worn by the players' parents have a way of stopping other teams in their tracks.

"Our daughters are witches,'' they read. The jersey say "Witches'' across the front, but the team pin includes a witch on her broomstick with eye that lights up red when the switch on the back is cut on.

"We draw stares and comments regardless of where we go,'' said Wanda Calixto, whose daughter is a Witch. "Everyone that sees the shirt wants one. When we were at the opening ceremonies, some people walked up and asked if they could take a picture of my back.''

The Witches are in town for the 2007 NSA Class A Girls World Series. In their first game Monday at Cherry Park, they escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth and held on for a 1-0 win over the Tennessee Raiders.

When the game ended, the teams exchanged gifts, a requirement for every team's opening game. The Witches presented to the Raiders black witch hats filled with a team T-shirt, a Witches pin, pretzels, candy and as Calixto said, other goodies they found associated with witches.

The name, according to Karen Soles, came about when two friends -- Mike Tunney and Bruce Benedetti -- in Bordentown, N.J., started the Witches. Between them, they each had three daughters and one had two nieces that played for the team.

"They had a bunch of girls,'' Soles said. "The story goes that he (Tunney) got femaled out of the house. He told people he had a bunch of witches living with him.''

There are no secret potions to why the Witches have had success over the years. Dimon's team runs through pre-game drills like Marine recruits at Parris Island.

Monday, a coach pitched basketballs in the air that a batter swatted into a hitting net. Across the way, hitters swung at plastic golf balls and plastic softball before all of them headed into a group to take batting practice off their pitchers.

Dimon, a former high school softball and basketball coach at Burlington (N.J.) High School said she picked up the drills seeing other teams doing them.

"I asked about them and we put them in,'' said Dimon, a high school math teacher at Burlington since the first of her three children were born. "We hit the basketballs for power, the softballs for technique and the golf balls to help our eye and hand coordination.

"What we do works. We are 57-14 this year and have not lost to any of the 16-and-under teams we've played. We advertise for players and it becomes word of mouth. We get kids some from New York. They become friends with our players, who draw them in.''

The Witches' organization fields teams in the 10-and under, 12-and-under, 14-and-under, 16-and under and 18-and-under divisions. Players move up as they grow older. The cost is $700 per year and does not include uniforms, gloves, bats or travel expenses.

Continuity is another key. Chelsea Dimon, the coach's daughter, has been in the organizations six years, Emily Bausher and Karen Soles five years each.

"We come together quickly and play well as a team each year, Chelsea said. "We like playing for the Witches. Kids our age like to kid us about our team name. And it's funny the way parents from other teams like to pick on our parents.''

Kayla said the name is an attention grabber, that she likes it that way.

"We will be in a store with our jerseys on and people will come up and tell us they want one,'' she said. "That's not going to happen because they don't understand the background associated with the Witches.''

Emily, who plays four positions, said she wouldn't play for any other team or organization.

"It's the coaches,'' she said. "They know what they are doing and make us better players. And it's just like our motto says. We are all about team.''

And they will always get attention as long as they don't change names. After the Witches won their opening game, the Charlotte Cardinals walked up from behind the left-field fence to take their place in the third base dugout for their first game.

Before reaching the bench, a female Cardinals' coach stopped one of the Witches parents headed into the gate to take photos.

"Awesome,'' the Cardinals coach said. "Y'all guys are going to win the T-shirt contest.''

For complete coverage of the NSA World Series, including stories, photos and videos, be sure to visit our Web site.