Every Wednesday since October, the FDNY volleyball team has been meeting at the Maspeth High School gymnasium to practice for a big game next year.
The 20-member team is set to compete at the renowned World Police and Fire Games in August 2013 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The biannual event brings fire and police departments from around the world to face one another in various elimination-style tournaments.
The captain of the team is Lt. Bill Miccio, a 25-year firefighter stationed in the Bronx. He has been with the team since its creation in 1998 and competed in its first game in Sweden, where, he says, “[we] got crushed.” But they didn’t let the loss stop them.
“We had such a great time that the team said, ‘Listen we’re going to go back to compete in 2001 in Indianapolis,’” he continued.
Since then, they have traveled the world — competing in Spain, Canada, Australia and many other countries — and have won individual and team awards.
More important, Miccio says, they have forged friendships with other firefighters. After 9/11, firefighters from Japan sent them T-shirts that read “Japan Firefighters Are with You in Spirit.” German firefighters invited the children and families of lost firefighters to stay a few weeks in their country.
“There’s such a sense of community with the firemen’s service around the world,” he said. “Everyone looks out for one another.”
They have also gotten support at the local level from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), sports equipment manufacturer Molten USA and walk-in medical center Premier Medical.
Helping the team out is Gerry Matacotta from Maspeth, who is not only in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, but also helped found the NCAA Division III men’s volleyball conference. During scrimmages he gives advice to players on their form and warns them of their mistakes. He helped secure the school as a new space for the team to practice.
“One of the things I noticed at the games was that the fire departments around the world had a recreation center where they could practice different sports,” Matacotta said. “New York didn’t have that. They could practice wherever they could get space.”
Matacotta worked with MHS Principal Khurshid Abdul-Mutakabbir, who lent his school’s gym to the team hoping to forge a greater connection with the community.
“What we wanted to do is to create a high school that had a connection to the community,” Abdul-Mutakabbir said. “There was some feeling in the community that the school was disconnected … We wanted to bridge that right away.”
During practice, the eight team members who attended stretched out individually and then immediately went to practicing bumps. Following that they split into two teams and played some scrimmage games.
One of the team members, firefighter Kevin Kozub, 32, from Engine 326 in Oakland Gardens, joined the team recently. Not a stranger to volleyball and other sports. he is excited for the big game.
“I’m looking forward to playing over in Ireland,” Kozub said. “It should be a wonderful experience.” He is also playing in other volleyball leagues and recreationally to get ready for next year.
The team has had its share of ups and downs. Two members, Tim Welty of Squad 288 in Maspeth and Mike Carlo of Engine 230 in Brooklyn, died in the 9/11 attacks.
Hurricane Sandy has put some players on the sidelines due to either helping out communities in affected areas or because they’re helping their own families.
Such obstacles haven’t stopped the team from staying strong.
“Anytime you share a great loss two things can happen,” Micio said. “One, it either defeats you or you get closer. I can honestly say I love these guys. These are a great bunch of guys.”