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The Truest Mark of a Championship Team

The moment most fans never saw will be the one Conestoga's biggest fan will never forget.

It was perhaps the moment that marked the team as true champions.

It came just one week ago, after the the final out in the longest game in PIAA baseball championship history. It came after the medals had been awarded to the outstanding players on both teams. It came after the grounds crew had taken the field and most of the crowd had filed out.

It started when someone on the Pioneers team yelled, "Let run the bases!" and without hesitation, the newly-crowned state baseball champions lined up along the the third base line as the fan and teammate with Down Syndrome, who had been with the Pioneers in the dugout throughout the season, strode, bat in hand, to the plate.

Reporter/photographer Dave Conard—there on assignment for TE and Limerick Patch—caught the timeless moment in Conestoga Baseball history on video.

The first thing that stands out is the way Pioneers catcher/ace relief pitcher/slugger puts his arm around Sonny's shoulder, encouraging him and guiding him to knock another imaginary homer out of the park, just as he had done after every Conestoga game.

Right before Sonny knocks the cover off that imaginary ball he throws a proud, beaming look to his teammates, his biggest fans, his guys. There they are, proudly cheering for him to play his indispensable role in a team-bonding ritual.

As Sonny rounds third and runs for home he gets high fives and congratulatory slaps before knocking Williams over at the plate to score, just as the ritual demands.

Then comes the moment  that says it all: Sonny jumps into the arms of a waiting teammate to celebrate the victory. Sure, it wasn't just any victory it was the state championship victory. And it simply would not have been complete without Sonny's walk-off, make that hug-off,  home run.

In a title game marked by countless outstanding plays and even more nail-biting moments, this is the highlight that should have everyone talking.  Long after the box score becomes a faded memory of remember the team that championed kindness, decency, compassion and inclusion.

The mission of the National Down Syndrome Society is "to be the national advocate for the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome." The NDSS says that one in every 691 is born with Down Syndrome. That far out numbers the number of babies who will grow to be professional baseball players.

As the glow of the victory begins to fade and the long days of summer tournament baseball begin, this seems like a good opportunity to give the 2011 Pioneers baseball squad one last standing ovation. 

Congratulations to and the 2011 Conestoga baseball team. You won the title game and showed the world what it means to be true champions.

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