Chris Astacio, head coach of the Jordan L. Mott Lady Tigers softball team, was recently presented a check from Walmart for $20,000 for his commitment to his players at the Morrisania middle school.
He received the check from Ellen Degeneres, a partner in community service with Walmart, during the March 20th episode of the Ellen Show.
Astacio, a Physical Education teacher at the school and a cancer survivor, started the program in 2013 to create a sense of community among troubled pre-teen girls.
During the Ellen Show, Astacio and three of his star players – Bryana Francisco, Kylie Montalvo, and Carolyn Rosario – sat across from the host as she praised him for his work.
“What you are doing is so important because these girls are telling us what they’re lives would have been like without you,” Degeneres told Astacio during the segment.
For Astacio, the appearance on the daytime talk show exhibits just how far the softball program has come.
Astacio joined J.H.S. 22 as a P.E. teacher in 2013 and immediately noticed the school had its share of fights, especially among the female population.
Astacio, who played baseball at John F. Kennedy High School, decided a softball team might be an easy answer to the school’s problem.
“I was mistaken,” he said with a laugh.
During the 2013-2014 school year, only seven girls stepped up to join the team.
To make matters worse, some of the girls didn’t even like each other and the team had no real equipment.
“All we had was a cracked wiffle ball bat and a few plastic balls,” said Astacio.
After going into his own pocket to buy some more equipment, he was able to convince a few more girls to join.
He said the team dealt with a lot of dysfunction for the first seven months, losing all but one of the ten games they played.
For the 2014-2015 school year, Astacio was much more prepared.
During the previous school year, he had enlisted a fundraising website called donor
By the second year, he raised enough money through the site to fully equip the team.
In addition, the team roster had grown to 20 girls and he was able to keep all of them.
That year they went undefeated for most of the season, losing only their last two games.
Unfortunately for Astacio, while things were going well on the field, he was suffering off the field.
Doctors found cancer cells in his stomach during the 2014-2015 school year.
He eventually had to share his diagnosis with the team.
“That was the hardest day of my life,” said Astacio, who had become like a father to many of the girls.
According to the coach, many of his players had fathers with whom they were not close to or who had passed away.
Many of the girls told him he couldn’t die because he was the only father they had, he recountered.
Thankfully, in June 2015, Astacio received good news that the tests revealed he was cancer free.
Now things are full speed ahead for the Lady Tigers.
Astacio said this year, he had 60 girls try out for the team.
“I felt so conflicted,” he said. “I wanted to keep everyone but I couldn’t.”
The softball coach plans to give the entire $20,000 to the Lady Tigers program.
“I knew as soon as Ellen handed me that big check that day, it was meant for my daughters in softball,” he said.