Playing in memory of Zach

There were a lot of winners on the weekend as close to 80 boys and girls house league teams took part in the Mike Bartram Memorial soccer tournament.

It's fair to say, however, that one team, even though it didn't win a medal, stood out among them all.

The Zach Attack, a U-11 boys team coached by Craig Berdusco and Jason Scerbo, played with heavy hearts Sunday, following the death of Zach Laird, the 13-year-old brother of teammate Carter Laird.

"On Saturday morning, when we got to the field, we were told that (Zach) wasn't doing very well," Berdusco said. "On Sunday, when we got there, we were told that he had passed away that morning.

"I got the boys together . . . and said, 'Look, this is what has happened. Carter's brother has passed away. You guys need to go out today and play the game for him . . . as hard as you've ever played.' "

This actually was the second time that this particular group of youngsters was touched by tragedy. On Aug. 1, 2005, Rick Salituro, who was coaching the team along with Berdusco, died in an ATV accident.

"It was my first year . . . I had just met him," Bersdusco said. "Six months later, he was killed."

Berdusco kept on coaching, brought on Scerbo and now has "a great group of kids."

"As they've gotten older . . . the skill in soccer is there," said Berdusco, whose son Connor, 11, is on the team. "They know what they have to do. We try to teach them some other things, like the sportsmanship side of things, about playing as a team, just getting out there and playing hard all the time."

So when Zach was diagnosed with a brain tumour last summer . . .

"We decided to dedicate the season to him and we named our team Zach Attack," Berdusco said.

The boys won two games Saturday to move into a Sunday semifinal.

"It was quite an emotional morning," Berdusco recalled. "The boys went out and gave it everything they had."

When the game began, Zach Attack, its normal roster at 15 players, was five players short. Carter wasn't there, while two players were off playing hockey and two others were taking part in The Daily News Boogie.

But the boys got a lift when Carter showed up, along with his mother, Dana, and stepfather Doug Goodman. (Zach and Carter lost their father, Jason, to cancer when they were quite young.)

"It was amazing," Berdusco said of Carter's play Sunday. "He played incredibly. I sent out an email after, saying 'I'm not overly religious but (Zach) had to be out on the field with us that day because this kid was up and down the field and had one chance after another.' "

In fact, Berdusco said, the entire team played extremely well.

"I've never seen them play like this. They just gave it everything they had," Bertusco said, more than an ounce of pride in his voice. "They went all out. They gave everything they had . . . they left it all on the field. For 11 year olds . . . it was something.

"But not having enough subs caught up with us."

Of course, when a team dedicates itself to a cause, there always is the danger of a letdown if there is failure.

"When the other team won, they were pretty excited," Berdusco said. "When our guys were coming off the field I could see they were pretty distraught. I just told them they had nothing to be ashamed of. They reminded me of a group of 16-year-olds . . . they were very mature. Considering this situation and what they had gone out and done that day . . . they went out and played hard. It wasn't about the winning that day.

"Unfortunately, we wanted to win it for him and it didn't happen that way."

Still, Berdusco and the parents realized that things had probably turned out for the best.

"Everybody was emotionally drained," Berdusco said. "If we'd have won, we'd have played that afternoon. All the parents said it was fine the way it ended, because they were so tired."

Berdusco has decided that he is going to work to keep Zach's memory alive with his team. With help from Kirk Borden at the LN Group, Berdusco has designed a yellow Zach Attack t-shirt that features wings on the back, along with a stylized A encircled by a halo.

"I've got 60 orders from parents and friends of the family," he said, "so that when we go out and play it'll be like a sea of yellow."

Berdusco also has decided to donate $1 for each goal Zach Attack scores and has challenged his team's parents to match it.

"By the time the season is over," he said, "we could have $500 to $1,000. We'll give it to Dana and she can put it in Zach's name somewhere."

A service for Zach is scheduled for Saturday, 1 p.m., at the Calvary Community Church, 1205 Rogers Way.

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