Beloved coach in South Bronx helps softball team grow

A softball team in the South Bronx is about much more than just wins and losses, and it's all thanks to the efforts of one dedicated teacher.

Three years ago, Christopher Astacio was a physical education teacher at M.S. 22. He saw girls dealing with issues like teen pregnancy, missing fathers and anger, and the issues hit close to home for Astacio, who lost his sister when she was 31.

Astacio created the Lady Tigers softball team and recruited girls that he knew needed help.

"Some girls had been through adult-like problems and they built up those walls, and softball was something to break down the barriers," he says.

It wasn't easy going from the start. One student recalls not liking Astacio at first.

"I didn't want anything to do with him," says Rashell Delarosa. She used to act out in school after her father left, and even left Astacio's class without permission. "He was like, 'Yeah, I want you to play softball, I want to coach you.' I needed something to help me forget about the things that were going on at home and in school."

As the team grew, so did their success. The Lady Tigers began traveling, first to a camp in Florida and then last year on a memorable trip to play for a team from Chicago.

Just as Asatacio has been there for the girls on the team, they are now concerned about the struggles their coach faces. Astacio was diagnosed with stomach cancer back in 2010. It's currently in remission, but he also suffers from a non-cancerous cyst in his brain.

"For us, it's hard because it's like he's a father figure to us and for him to just be like hurt and going through things we can't stop, it's really hard for us," says Lady Tiger Bryana Francisco.

But Astacio wishes the girls wouldn't worry. He wants them to focus on their futures, not his. "It's like watching your own daughter grow up. These girls are my girls," he says.

Astacio says in touch with his team members after they graduate, and says he hopes to always be there to support his Lady Tigers.

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