They look like any other group of giggling 11-year-old girls.
But with a word from their coach, they assemble expertly on the bench. On cue, they begin to slap each other's knees and chant about winning--or something.
Their high-pitched squealing is deafening. Intimidating. Undefeated.
"That cheer makes the other teams say, 'Wow, I wish we could do that,' " explains Kat Beauvais, 11, second baseman for the Manassas Express.
The 12-and-under fast-pitch softball team, comprising the 14 top players in the Greater Manassas Softball League, has gone undefeated in the district, state and southeast regional tournaments. On Thursday, it will take its arsenal of cheers and squeals and roars with hopes of deafening the 10 other teams from across the country competing in the inaugural Babe Ruth World Series in Jamestown, N.Y. Its first screaming match is Saturday against Louisiana.
For these girls, softball is the only "real" sport. They roll their eyes at the mere mention of the highly publicized U.S. victory in the Women's World Cup. "Soccer?!" they screech, then mockingly stick their fingers in their throats.
"Express is we cream, we win every game," squeals a gregarious Beauvais, whose 10-and-under all-star team went undefeated last season. "All you need to know is, it's our tradition not to lose."
"There's a 100 percent chance we'll win," pipes in Jessie Green, 11, who plays first base and is the daughter of one of the coaches, Joe Green.
Make that "Sergeant" Joe Green. "We practice almost every day and my dad, Sergeant Joe, works us really hard," Jessie says.
Every practice, Green makes the girls do five push-ups each and run two laps around the field. They also run relay races between throwing and batting practice or after fielding grounders and pop-ups.
Each of the team's three coaches spends an average of 30 hours a week running practices, setting up fields and planning tournaments. In the offseason, the coaches held seminars on base-path signals and took players to a teamwork camp at Hemlock Lake in Fairfax County.
Like all ballplayers, they are superstitious. The coaches wear the same shorts for every game, and the players wear French braids and put beads in their hair for good luck.
And they are as aggressive off the base paths as on. To help defray the $15,000 it will cost for airfare, hotels and food at the World Series, last weekend players asked drivers for money at busy street corners in Manassas. Their perfect puppy-dog pouts netted them $3,000 in eight hours. "When we get rejected--oh, it's soooo rude!" Beauvais says.
In fact, the Express is a victim of its own success. Fund-raising is a perennial problem for the team that keeps on winning, with most parents having spent close to $2,000 per player just on qualifying tournaments.
Last year's under-12 Express team--made up mostly of players who since have graduated to upper divisions--was barely able to raise the $20,000 it needed to compete for the national championship in Houma, La. This year, corporate sponsorship for the first softball World Series will help subsidize part of the trip, but the team must provide the balance.
"Yeah, it's really expensive, but we'll do anything to get these kids here to play ball," says Coach Tim Demerest. "It's that important to them."
The undefeated Express has bolstered Manassas's reputation for top-quality softball. Demand to play in the Greater Manassas Softball League, which runs from April to July, outpaced the 230 spots available in the spring, and 20 children were put on a waiting list.
In response to softball's growing popularity, in the fall the city will rebuild and put under lights the public fields at Jennie Dean Elementary School and, next spring, will renovate the softball fields at Byrd Park, says Manassas Parks Director Jo Ann Higgs.
But the tilted, beaten-up, brown fields at Byrd Park have not dampened the team's enthusiasm--or the eardrum-piercing volume of its favorite cheer:
We are the Express,
We tell no lies.
We'll play for Express,
'Til the day we die.
And when we die,
You'll bury us deep,
And lay our trophies
Beside our feet.
To support the Express trip, call Dawn Bures at 703-631-9100 or send donations to: GMSA, PO Box 173, Manassas, Va. 20108.
CAPTION: Kat Beauvais, left, and Cristina Ecks are among 14 players for the Manassas Express, a 12-and-under fast-pitch team.
CAPTION: Jamie Jansen fields a grounder. The Express is set to play in the inaugural Babe Ruth World Series in Jamestown, N.Y.