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Former Norwin players helping mold youth through baseball academy

| Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 11:00 p.m.
Norwin graduate Tommy Shirley works on pitching mechanics with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.
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Norwin graduate Tommy Shirley works on pitching mechanics with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.
Norwin graduate Max McDowell (in gray) works on hitting with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin. Looking on are former Norwin teammates Tommy Quealy and JJ Matijevic.
Submitted
Norwin graduate Max McDowell (in gray) works on hitting with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin. Looking on are former Norwin teammates Tommy Quealy and JJ Matijevic.
Norwin graduate Max McDowell (in gray) talks with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.
Submitted
Norwin graduate Max McDowell (in gray) talks with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.
Norwin graduate Tommy Quealy works on hitting with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.
Submitted
Norwin graduate Tommy Quealy works on hitting with youth players at the Baseball Academy of Norwin.

Max McDowell and Tommy Quealy, 2012 graduates of Norwin, were two of the most productive baseball players for the Knights in recent memory. Both enjoyed successful college baseball careers, and McDowell is playing professionally in the Milwaukee Brewers' minor-league system.

Now, McDowell and Quealy want to make sure young baseball players in the area have the same opportunity at success they enjoyed. That objective led the duo to take ownership of the Irwin facility that helped boost their careers nearly a decade ago. They now operate the Baseball Academy of Norwin, a year-round training center for baseball and softball players.

“I kind of grew up in the facility,” McDowell said of the academy, which previously was operated by Tommy's father, Tom Quealy, and Norwin baseball coach Mike Liebdzinski. “They kind of built the facility as a local spot for Norwin guys to train in the offseason, and it produced results.”

To that point, the Knights boast three active professional players — McDowell, Tom Shirley, and JJ Matijevic, who was drafted 75th overall last June. The Knights finished as WPIAL runners-up in 2015 and captured the WPIAL Class AAAA championship in '16.

Matijevic was an instructor at the academy this winter, and he and McDowell used it as a way to stay in shape and hone their skills.

When McDowell returns to his professional team in February, Quealy will handle the day-to-day operations while maintaining a full-time job in Pittsburgh.

Under McDowell and Quealy, the academy is geared towards younger players, frequently between ages 8 and 14. The Norwin youth travel team, which competes in national tournaments, has utilized the academy to develop its players.

The Norwin varsity team uses the facility, and Penn-Trafford also joined for the first time this winter. Serra Catholic, another team that has claimed a WPIAL championship recently, expressed interest in using the facility in the future.

“It's a really good spot for teams to train in the winter and get a head start on spring,” McDowell said.

While the academy heavily focuses on hitting, there are also instructors for pitching and McDowell works closely with catchers.

He estimated he's been giving approximately 30 or 40 individual lessons per week.

“That's where we really see kids get a lot better,” McDowell said.

Tom Quealy and Liebdzinski still serve as instructors, as do John Tavares and Paul Bugajski.

While McDowell stressed the importance of the academy offering professional instruction at affordable prices, he said perhaps the biggest benefit is that players have an opportunity to get consistent reps over the winter or during adverse weather conditions.

“If you want to get swings in and you want to throw during the winter, it gives you a space to do it in,” he said.

The Baseball Academy of Norwin also offers memberships, ranging from month-to-month to a full year. For McDowell and his former teammates, the constant access to the facility was crucial in their development.

“That's how we grew up in the facility” he said. “That's the big reason I tell people why I'm at where I'm at today, because in high school and growing up, I'd be there four or five days a week just hitting by myself or with my friends, as much as I could.”

McDowell and Quealy hope their academy will allow the next generation of players to reach that same caliber.

For more information, visit norwinbaseballacademy.com.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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