There's just one silver lining to Yankee Derek Jeter's imminent retirement for six fifth-graders from Cherry Avenue Elementary School in West Sayville: They're hoping that when the hoopla dies down, the baseball legend will have time to respond to a 12-minute tribute video they spent two months making for him.
The boys, all 9 and 10 years old, gave up recess and lunch periods and came to school early to research, develop questions, create a backdrop, rehearse and film students and adults' accolades for the shortstop and team captain.
The tribute wasn't a school project for a grade; it was just an extra effort on the part of the kids to pay homage to their hero. "Derek Jeter is the one who never did steroids or wanted to do anything like that. He's a really good guy. I just decided to look up to him," says one of the boys, Connor Cameron, 10.
"I'm really proud of them," says principal Lisa Ihne, herself a Yankees fan. "I knew they would do a great job, but I didn't expect it to turn out as awesome as it did."
'SO MUCH FUN'
The tribute idea formed one day last school year, when then-fourth-graders Michael Argenziano and Jack Corcoran, both 10, happened to wear Yankee shirts on the same day. They got to talking with principal Ihne, and decided to mark No. 2's retirement.
The boys pulled in classmates also devoted to the Yankees, including Connor, Joseph Kolczniski, 10, and Chad Moccio, 9. And they couldn't leave out Tommy Marino, 10, who was in another class but is the biggest Yankees fan of all -- his parents call him "Little Jeter."
The boys would gather in the principal's office, and on days they came in early, they'd get bagels, doughnuts or cinnamon buns. "It didn't really matter to us that we were missing recess or coming in early. It was just so much fun, doing it together," Jack says.
The hardest part was waiting for the time to focus on the film, the boys agree. They had reading before recess. "When we were reading, we were watching the clock every second until it was time to work on the video," Jack says.
Their banner illustrates Jeter diving into the stands to make a famous catch, and Jeter getting his 3,000th hit, both drawn by Chad. The kids used each letter of Jeter's first name to describe him: Definitely generous, Excellent, Ridiculously great, Extraordinary, Knows baseball best.
Sean McNally, 16, a junior at Sayville High School, volunteered to film and edit the project. He said he was impressed by the boys' dedication and maturity, and he spent weeks sorting through the video to splice together the perfect quotes. "It was an incredible opportunity that I couldn't mess up," McNally says.
The boys were, in turn, awed by their videographer. "We all got his autograph, just in case he gets famous," Connor says.
"You talk about an authentic learning experience," principal Ihne says. "This really encompassed that and is something they'll never forget."
The kids had invited Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to participate in their tribute, but he declined because of time constraints. But he wrote the kids a letter that they were thrilled to receive, promising he would personally deliver their tribute to Jeter when it was finished.
"We were excited," Tommy says. "You don't every day get a letter from the Yankees general manager." Connor interrupted. "Did you say 'excited'? We were more than that. It's like we jumped off a cliff and survived. THAT extraordinarily awesome."
Cashman has been true to his word. "I brought it down to him. He was sitting at his locker and I handed it to him," Cashman says. "I wanted to make sure I honored their efforts."
However, Jeter hasn't yet had time to view the tribute, says Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo, who provided this message from Jeter: "It was an extremely thoughtful and kind gesture. I'm sure a lot of work went into their video, and I plan on watching it once the season concludes."
The boys are holding out hope Jeter might visit them at their school. Zillo says that's unlikely, because Jeter lives in Florida. They would settle for a letter from their baseball hero.
"Anything. Just a response," Chad says. "We would really like to know how it affected him and if he liked it."
JETER'S NEXT CHAPTERS
Derek Jeter is retiring from baseball, and he's already got a new interest to keep him busy: This week he launches his first chapter book for kids in grades 3 to 6, called "The Contract" (Jeter Publishing, $14.99). The novel is inspired by Jeter's youth and a contract his parents made him agree to: keep up the grades, or no baseball. The book is the debut work for Jeter Publishing, which also will publish nonfiction, children's picture books and more.