No. 600 for Hermantown's Tom Bang
Hermantown softball players presented coach Tom Bang with a plaque and a cake Thursday to commemorate his 600th career victory.
After a doubleheader sweep over Duluth Marshall and Superior at Fichtner Field, Bang is only 98 wins away from another cake.
Don't bet against the 62-year-old from reaching that milestone, too.
"I always say it's one year at a time," said Bang, who began the program in 1978 and has coached ever since. "I certainly enjoy the young kids we have in our program so it's hard to put a definitive answer on (retirement). I just take it one pitch at a time. It may not look like I'm having fun, but I'm having a good time."
He enjoyed watching his team pummel Marshall 14-0 in five innings and then defeat area powerhouse Superior 12-2 to improve to 14-3 on the season.
"I didn't think he would get up to 600 wins," senior pitcher Katie Thun said. "He said he will coach until he's not having any fun. He's still having fun, and we're having fun with him."
Catcher Brooke Dahlin hit two three-run home runs and Thun added a two-run shot against the Spartans. Thun, who sat out from hitting for the last week with a quadriceps injury, also tossed a five-hitter and struck out 11, including one whiff of third baseman Jessica Lindstrom in a battle of two-time News Tribune All-Area athletes.
"She's one I go after and hope to strike out," said Thun, who will attend North Dakota State on a softball scholarship.
After loading the bases but scoring just a single run in the second inning, the Hawks began the long-ball heroics in the third. Thun blasted an Alison Wainionpaa pitch off the top of the fence in center field to spot her team a three-run lead.
Dahlin then took over. The sophomore, who sat out last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, smacked her first homer over the center-field fence in the fifth and followed suit the next inning with a blast to a nearly identical location.
"Brooke can get hot -- she had a game earlier in the year when she had three doubles," Bang said. "As of late, she's had some hard-hit balls that just haven't gone out. That frustrates her, but the baseball gods turn around sometimes. It was nice to see her hit two out today."
Dahlin dropped from fourth to seventh in the order as the Hawks continue to fiddle with their lineup, but she's found a way out of a recent hitting slump.
"You get frustrated and a little down on yourself, but in these big games you have to believe in yourself, go out there and relax and have fun," she said.
After yet another doubleheader today, the Hawks can concentrate on trying to return to the state tournament. They missed out last year when Cloquet scored two runs on a fluke error in the Section 7AA quarterfinals.
But Bang has brought 18 teams to the state playdowns, winning three championships, in his 36 years in the dugout. He's gone through open-heart surgery to replace an aortic valve and retired from teaching a few years ago.
As for all those wins? Bang is more concerned about the 200 or so losses and attributes the wins to coaching quality players and longevity.
"As they say, 'I'm older than dirt.'"
Duluth News Tribune
No. 500 for Shakopee's Neil Johnson
Tuesday's Shakopee softball game turned out to more than just two wins for the Sabers.
They turned into wins No. 499 and 500 for head coach Neil Johnson.
Shakopee swept a doubleheader with Holy Angels 8-0 and 22-1 on Tuesday at Shakopee West Junior High School to give Johnson the milestone victory of 500.
Johnson is only the fifth coach in the history of Minnesota high school softball to reach 500 wins. This is Johnson's 38th year as the head softball coach for Shakopee High School.
Those two wins also extended Shakopee's win streak to 12 games and improved their record to 15-1 on the season.
The Sabers are currently 11-0 in the Missota Conference and hold a game and half lead over second place Farmington who has a record of 10-2.
New bill could lessen influence of parental complaints for Minnesota
In a youth athletic landscape where parental investment is increasing for their child at a younger and younger age, it's not a new story. The child makes his way to the high school varsity level and things don't go as planned. They don't play as much as their parents think they should. Something is wrong. Or, maybe, someone is wrong.
Parental complaints about coaches have long been a part of the drill at the high school level, but a new bill making its way through the Minnesota legislature aims to curb the effect those complaints could have. Introduced by Rep. Dean Urdahl, a former high school coach himself, the bill would add a clause to an existing state statute to guarantee that 'the existence of parent complaints must not be the sole reason for a [school] board to not renew a coaching contract.'
"Sometimes you have to legislate common sense,' said Northfield school board member Julie Pritchard, whose daughter is also on the Northfield High School softball team. 'I can't imagine how anyone would think it would be fair for a coach to be evaluated on any one criteria, like a parent's complaint.'
For many coaches though, it's added protection that's growing increasingly necessary: a recent Star Tribune article cites John Erickson, executive director of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association, saying the 'number of coaches' contracts not being renewed has risen in the past 10 years.' That same article cites Mike MacMillan of the MSHSCA stating that 110 high school boys hockey coaches have left in the past five years, with 35 percent of those cases involving parental complaints.
"This new piece that could be added'doesn't create any guarantees,' said Northfield High School boys swimming and diving coach Doug Davis. 'It's not like [coaches] have tenure. It's just to take into consideration that any movement to dismiss a coach shouldn't be solely from a parent complaint. It's just one more piece to add, maybe another step to the process.'
Added layer of security
Davis served on the MSHSCA's executive board from 2004-2008 and helped shape the statute that the current piece of legislation would amend. The original statute essentially provides coaches due process, Davis said.
'A school board that declines to renew the coaching contract of a licensed or non-licensed head varsity coach must notify the coach within 14 days of that decision,' the current statue reads. 'If the coach requests reasons for not renewing the coaching contract, the board must give the coach its reasons in writing within ten days of receiving the request. Upon request, the board must provide the coach with a reasonable opportunity to respond to the reasons at a board meeting.'
Unlike teachers, high school coaches do not have an official union and are essentially at-will employees on year-by-year contracts. NHS activities director Tom Graupmann said both the original statute and the potential added language are products of years' worth of discussion from the coaches association to try to add a measure of preemptive security.
'The coaches want some sort of protection. There's no question about that, and I think they deserve that. It makes sense,' he said. 'This will also help athletic directors, coaches and other school people, including school boards.'
A necessary step?
Were the language added to the current statute, it would explicitly spell out something that is already understood in Northfield, Pritchard said.
'There are multiple factors that make that coach a good or bad coach, and they all need to be considered,' she said.
That consideration process would remain in the hands of activities directors and school boards to handle, but the amendment would make law that parent's complaints are not the only reason that could be provided for a non-renewed coach.
'I understand the impulse to give coaches protection against parent complaints, but I don't think it's a good idea to address the issue by statute,' Northfield school board member Rob Hardy said by email. 'School boards should be able to make these decisions based on their best judgment and their understanding of individual circumstances.'
While the bill could potentially add protection for coaches, Graupmann said it wouldn't take away from parents' ability to hold coaches accountable by letting their thoughts be known.
'I don't think it takes away a parent from still voicing their opinion,' he said. 'People are going to voice their opinion no matter what.'
'We'll always listen to a parent,' he added. 'We need to.'
'Coaches should not be let go solely on parental complaints, but when there are multiple complaints coming in I would hope an investigation would follow,' Jill Mischke says on Northfield's Facebook page. 'Coaches do need to be kept in check though, but one angry parent should not ruin a career.'
NHS softball coach Ryan Pietsch said it's important that coaches be held accountable, but that the evaluation should come from the athletic director and school board.
'From a coach standpoint [the amendment] may give you just a little bit more sense of security knowing that it's in place,' he said. 'Coaches shouldn't have to worry about that, to lose their job just over parents complaining.'
Pietsch added that parents in Northfield are overwhelmingly supportive of coaches, something both Graupmann and Pritchard said as well.
'If there's 1,000 parents, maybe 990 all they want to do are good, supportive things. Most parents are so supportive and they get it,' Graupmann said.
Were the language to be added, its effect in Northfield and across the state would take time to be measured. Pietsch said he doesn't think the bill would 'change a whole lot. Parents that want to say something are still going to say something.'
The message behind it though, Davis said, is that the evaluation of coaches is based on the proper reasons.
'This gives a little bit of that hope that there's, maybe not direct protection, but that the threshold moves a little higher,' he said. 'Now coaches know [the non-renewal of a contract] has to come with some kind of backing past parents complaining.'
'Trying to get on the same page, or closer to the same page, is important,' Graupmann said. 'I hope that by doing this we would be gaining allies, and not putting up walls or shutting people out. We want the best possible situation for our kids. This legislation speaks to that.'
Cascade track coaches won't be fired after 'bear crawl' controversy
Four track coaches have been placed on administrative leave and asked to resign from coaching after some of their athletes were hurt during practice.
A parent, who didn't want to be identified, said a handful of Cascade High School students were forced to do bear crawls on their track during Wednesday's practice as punishment for missing a practice last week.The practice they missed was scheduled the day before prom. The father we spoke with said his son missed practice because he needed to pick up his tux.
A bear crawl is an athletic move where a person places their hands and feet on the ground and crawls. Their knees never touch the ground.
'I don't know what they were thinking. I've been a coach and I've done athletics and I understand there needs to be a consequence when you miss practice. And you know, if you want to do the bear crawls, you can do 600 yards as far as I'm concerned on grass, but not on a tar track when it's 80 degrees outside,' he said.
The father was told some students had to do more laps around the track than others.
'Apparently one coach made the decision to do it and all four coaches talked about it and it was agreed upon that that's what they would do,' he said.
His son was taken to the ER after practice. He suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on his hands after being forced to go around the track twice.
'I think (in) this situation, people weren't thinking well. People make mistakes, but they sure need to live up to their mistakes,' he said.
The father of the track athlete would like to speak with the coaches.
'I just hope that these coaches will see that there's a line there when it comes to your authority over these students. (I hope the students) will see that, you know, if you think something is wrong, if you think you are being asked to do something that isn't right then don't so it,' he said.
Another parent, whose child runs for the track team, said she was surprised and angry about the punishment.
'I send my kid to school to be protected and they did this. It's not right,' Tammy Rulfs said.
Rulfs said her daughter's hands hurt.
'I want to see the coaches have to do what the children did,' Rulfs said.
Mill Creek Community School Corporation officials met with track parents on Thursday afternoon. Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Jill Jay said they are investigating the incident. In a statement she said:
'Last night we became aware of an incident involving the boys' and girls' high school track team and inappropriate conduct by the team coaches. We immediately began an investigation and interviewed those involved. In addition, our office contacted the Indiana Department of Child Services. We sincerely apologize to the parents and assure them we do not condone, nor will we tolerate this type of behavior from our school employees. We have requested that all four coaches resign from their coaching positions and they have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.'
Cascade High School track coaches admit they exercised poor judgment when they disciplined students, but they will not be fired, the school district said in a statement Tuesday.
The coaches, who have been relieved of their duties, will remain with the district as teachers.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, the Mill Creek Community School Corporation said its investigation into the incident has concluded and the coaches did not set out to injure anyone.
The controversy began on May 1, when students who missed practice the week before were forced to do 'bear crawls' on a hot track. Some of the students ended up with blisters on their hands; others suffered first- and second-degree burns. The practice the students missed was the day before prom.
Four coaches were placed on administrative leave following the incident. They have been relieved of their duties but will remain with the district as teachers.
In a statement, the school said the coaches admitted they exercised 'poor judgment.' They will remain with the school as teachers because they have 'recognized and taken ownership of their actions.' The school didn't anticipate any carryover in the classroom from the incident.
'The coaches accept the consequences of their actions including being relieved of their coaching positions and the public scrutiny that followed,' the school wrote in a statement. 'They also acknowledge that the school corporation does not condone reprimands or punishments that result or may result in physical injury as part of our extracurricular programs.'
Editors Note: It's amazing how little some coaches care about
other aspects of their athletes' lives. These students missed practice to
prepare for prom. There is no doubt there have been scores of practices,
but there may only be one prom for many of them. If you're a youth coach,
you have a responsibility to not just know what's good for the team, but to also
know about the importance of events for each athlete you work with.
Youth Sports 101: Top 9 Tips for Moms and Dads
How to help your son or daughter get the most out of sports
Most mothers and fathers are productive contributors to their children's well-being in sports. Unfortunately, however, the negative effects of a small minority of parents are all too obvious. The good news is that incidents of parental misbehavior are not the norm! In fact the majority of parents are able to channel their genuine concerns and good intentions in a way that heightens the value of their children's sport experiences.
How can you become a successful sport parent?
There's no set formula, but the guidelines below are designed to increase the chances of producing favorable results.
- Set a good example of an active person.
Active parents produce active children. If children see their mom and dad participating in and enjoying sports, then it's going to be more natural for them to want to pursue those activities. On the other hand, if parents are couch potatoes . . .
- Let kids participate in determining when they are ready for sports.
Children who are forced into sports before they are ready usually have bad experiences. When kids say they are interested, parents should start looking earnestly at it. By involving children in the decision-making process, they feel a sense of ownership in the outcome. This creates a greater sense of commitment: 'I'm doing it because I want to do it, not because I'm made to do it.'
- Give priority to your child's own interests.
Most kids develop a sense of their personal interests at an early age. And although parents might prefer their child be active in sports, maybe the child would rather play a musical instrument.
Parents should let their children have a say in determining what tune they march to. Remember that youth sports are about what participation can do for kids, and not what parents get out of it.
- Don't use sports as a babysitter.
Some parents erroneously believe their involvement merely consists of getting their child signed up and driving them to and from practices and games. But that's just part of it. Parents not only have a right but a responsibility to oversee their child's sport participation.
- Emphasize the process of enjoyment rather than the product of winning.
Research on young athletes' motives for playing sports has consistently shown that their primary objective is to have fun. Studies also indicate that the main reason why youngsters drop out of sports is, 'It isn't fun any more.' Simply stated, children want to play sports for personal enjoyment. And when the fun disappears, so do they.
- Emphasize striving to improve skills rather than comparing oneself with others.
Growth and development happen at different rates in youngsters, and this should be made clear to them. It is particularly important that children whose skill is lagging not view this as a permanent condition. Parents who praise self-improvement efforts, can help their kids derive pleasure from their progress over time. This creates many worthwhile experiences in sports'even for athletes who never will be stars.
- Establish and maintain open lines of communication.
Tell your children what you expect'things like giving maximum effort, listening to their coach, having fun'and ask what they are thinking. Make it very clear you want to know how they feel about what's happening in practices and games. This type of two-way communication is essential.
- Evaluate your child's coach.
Parents should talk to the coach, regularly go to games, and occasionally attend a practice. Additionally, they should ask themselves the following questions:
If not, it may be necessary to find another team for your child
- Are the young athletes treated with respect?
- Are they being taught?
- Are they given a chance to perform?
- Are they made to feel what they're doing is a fun activity?
- If not, it may be necessary to find another team for your child
- Don't live your dreams through your children.
All parents identify with their children to some extent and thus want them to do well. This is natural and healthy. But sometimes parents over-identify, and the child becomes an extension of themselves.
Parents who are 'winners' or 'losers' through their children are experiencing the frustrated-jock syndrome, which places extreme pressure on children. In such cases, the young athlete must excel, or the parent's self-image is threatened. To avoid this, don't define your own self-worth in terms of how good your children are.
Bill Would Strip Power From Florida High School Athletic Association
A bill set to be considered by the Florida Senate this week would force fundamental changes on the Florida High School Athletic Association and could ultimately lead to the association's demise.
If passed, the legislation would dramatically affect student-athlete eligibility rules by ensuring that students who transfer during the school year would remain eligible for athletics in their new school so long as the transfer occurs before the start of practice for their particular sport. That specific provision has sparked fears among some athletic directors and FHSAA officials, who believe the system could be exploited to allow students to be recruited by schools on the basis of athletics.
"Kids should not be changing schools for athletic reasons," FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing said, according to The Palm Beach Post. "It's not the athletics that are going to carry them through life. It's the academics. This is what our member schools stand for. ... It's what all 50 state high school associations are all about."
The bill would require the FHSAA to develop bylaws that "specifically prohibit the recruiting of students for athletic purposes" by establishing specific penalties and an appeals process for recruiting violations. It would also prohibit otherwise eligible student-athletes from being "unfairly punished" for violations committed by teammates, coaches, or school administrators.
If the FHSAA sought to challenge a student-athlete's eligibility, the bill would require the association to have "credible information from an identified source or from an anonymous source with credible corroboration." The student-athlete eligibility hearing would go through the state's Division of Administrative Hearings instead of through the FHSAA, as eligibility hearings currently do.
If a judge rules against the FHSAA in an eligibility hearing, the association would be responsible for paying the associated legal costs, the bill states. Student-athletes involved in ineligibility hearings would retain their athletic eligibility until the conclusion of the hearing.
"We're trying to change the philosophical orientation of this organization (FHSAA) so that they're not always presuming guilt," said Rep. Larry Metz, the primary sponsor of the House version of the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The FHSAA's designation as the "governing nonprofit organization of athletics in Florida public schools" would expire on July 1, 2017, if the legislation passes.
The state House passed the bill by an 89-26 vote on April 24, then sent it to the Senate the next day. If it doesn't reach the Senate floor by the end of the legislative session on Friday, it will die, according to the Naples Daily News. As of mid-Wednesday, the bill had not been placed on the Senate's special order calendar for May 1 or May 2.
If passed, the legislation would go into effect July 1.
Florida isn't the only state whose high school athletic association faces legislation that threatens its power. In Louisiana, the House education committee is currently considering a bill that would prohibit public schools from participating in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, TheNewsStar.com reports.
The bill's author, Rep. Bob Hensgens, explained on SportsNOLA.com that his proposed legislation was spawned by the LHSAA's decision in January to separate "select" and "nonselect" schools in football playoffs.
"What kind of message is this sending to the next and future generation of citizens and leaders of our state?," Hengsens asked. "Separate is never equal, one will always be perceived as superior thus the other inferior. Call it what you want, but this proposition is segregation."
Schooled in Sports
Little League's Big Headaches: Helicopter Coaches
You're asked a lot of questions when you're an assistant coach for your son's Little League team, as I was for two years, but with a new season underway I'm reminded that the two I heard most often last year were also the most important' and they came from the eight-year-old players.
'Why do the coaches have to yell at us? Why don't they just let us play?'
Parents taking meaningless games too seriously is an all-too-familiar Little League problem, but in games involving the youngest children'ages five to nine'it's now the coaches who are creating an unsettling new offshoot. The issue, psychologists say, is that 'helicopter parents' who are obsessed with winning often join the coaching staff for their child's team, becoming 'helicopter coaches,' literally perching themselves next to the outfielders or near the batter's box so they can continually shout instructions to the children. Says Lois Butcher-Poffley, a Temple University sports psychologist and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's sports psychology registry, 'This is a way for the helicopter parent to gain access where they were banned before.'
The problem isn't unique to Little League. Helicopter coaches shadow players on other youth sports sidelines as well (skating moms are a well known presence at the ice rinks of potential Olympic stars), but baseball's sporadic action and distant defensive positions make hovering much easier. How crazy does it get? During a Little League game in Los Angeles last June, a team had five coaches positioned around the nine kids on the field. In the final inning, the infielders were so inundated by multiple coaches' shouted 'advice' that they were looking at each other in confusion, unable to understand the competing voices.
As anyone who has ever watched a young outfielder gawk at a passing bird knows, some kids have a genuine need for extra coaching. Baseball's youngest participants tend to be unfocused'which puts them at risk for injury in a game where hard balls are smacked and thrown. And sports are an important way of teaching younger children about responsibility ' to teammates and to the coach ' as well as discipline. But constant coaching, especially from multiple coaches, turns a pastime into a chore. 'The greater the importance coaches and parents place on performance, the higher the stress young athletes perceive,' says Daniel Gould, director of Michigan State University's Institute for the Study of Youth Sports.
Little League officials, hoping to discourage overeager coaching, have made a point of de-emphasizing results. If there are playoffs, then all teams qualify, and postseason teams are generally limited to three coaches. But walk onto a Little League diamond and too often you'll see a very different, cacophonous scene, with lingering coaches bellowing instructions or critiques. 'It's harassment,' says Butcher-Poffley. 'Over-instruction can cause a kid to hesitate or turn when they shouldn't because they are trying to pay attention to the adult.' In the Los Angeles game, coaches berated an eight-year-old first baseman for dropping a fly ball' a catch he missed because he was minding his coaches instead of the baseball. It was one of five such outbursts in a three-inning game.
Solutions aren't easy, but they're doable. First, leagues need to emphasize a simple concept: big kids play to win, little kids play for fun. The young kids won't care'they just like playing. And those rare games when they actually get caught up in the score are an opportunity to teach the big picture: how to learn from mistakes, and how to handle both winning and losing graciously. Waver even once in this approach, and the team's mentality changes from playing for fun to being burdened by something onerous ' something parents cheering from the stands need to embrace as well.
Next, coaches should limit their instruction to practices and between innings, and allow the kids to make their own decisions during games. Both casual players and future-phenoms will benefit; major league teams would much rather have players who learned from mistakes at a young age rather than those who experienced nothing but coach-propped wins.
Realistically, however, many coaches (and parents) won't embrace these notions. Even on my son's team, which was loaded with easygoing coaches, the idea of allowing the kids to simply go out and play, heavily touted in spring, usually dissipated by summer. League officials sometimes mediate for concerned parents, but too often it's the culture that needs changing, not a single coach. Still, a dose of nostalgia can help. Reminding coaches of the recent past, when kids enjoyed pickup ballgames in local parks without any need for hovering coaches, drives home the real reason everyone is on the ball field: to share a love of the game with children ' not to win a pennant.
Reggie Jackson once created a firestorm by telling reporters, 'When we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China won't care.' Reggie understood: sports is entertainment, and for the players, it's about enjoyment ' something that the youngest children understand intuitively. Sports can be a powerful way of teaching children about discipline and responsibility, but it may be just as important for the lessons it teaches coaches as well. Why can't they just let the kids play?
More to rescheduling sports than meets the eye
Activities directors across the state are dealing with a rescheduling nightmare due to the postponements of spring sports the past month.
The home team makes the call to the visiting team or teams when a game or meet is postponed or canceled.
A makeup date for a postponement cannot just be picked from an open date on the calendar. Umpires and buses have to be available, while concerts and other activities also have to be taken into consideration.
According to Rush City Activities Director Robert Schlagel, this is the worst by far, the latest start to spring sports he has ever witnessed.
The section and state games and meets will not be changed so spring sports can not be extended.
Track and field meets are usually canceled because it's difficult to set up a make up date for them since not just one, but many schools are at each meet. The conference title is decided at the conference championship meet.
Conference baseball and softball games, as well as boys tennis meets need to be played to determine the conference champion. Most non-conference baseball and softball games will be canceled if they haven't been already, to be replaced with conference games.
The schools are trying to reschedule baseball and softball games as double headers, and golf as triangulars or as quad meets.
But, there is now a shortage of umpires since all the schools are trying to reschedule so many sports all at once. The state usually requires two umpires at baseball and softball games, but because of this is allowing exceptions and requiring only one.
The state is also allowing double headers to only go to five innings rather than seven.
On top of the lack of umpires, because so many sports will be making up at the same time, there may be a shortage of buses.
Another consideration is that sports have to be scheduled to be over in time for athletes to attend other school activities such as music concerts, so there is a limit to how many double headers can be scheduled.
'There is so much communication going on it's crazy.' said Schlagel. 'We're in a position where we don't care if games are away or home so long as we play.'
Activities directors have to communicate back and forth to get the date, the umpires and the buses, while hoping for no more postponements.
The Post Review
Teams Looking for Athletes
There are several 14U, 16U and 18U teams still looking for an athlete or two to complete their rosters for the summer. If you didn't have much of a high school softball season, due to the weather and you haven't already committed to a summer team, you may want to look at the
FastSports Forum for teams looking for your skills!
I am complete
This was taken from a Tumblr post, by an author and softball player that goes by the handle "smileinsteadoffrown":
There's only one time in my life when I feel complete.
And do you know when that is?
It's when my home is the field and the team is my family. It's when that yellow ball comes flying into my glove and I feel the stitches as I trace my hand over the ball. The only thing I have my mind set on is winning and feeling a rush of pride and victory, knowing that I've overcome yet another battle.
Every day when I come home dripping in sweat and so sore that I can't walk, I know I've accomplished something. That I'm working to become a better person not only on the field, but with every step I take. The pain, tears, and sweat are all part of what I love to do. I know I may not be the greatest player out there, but I'm the best me that there will ever be. I will work to the best of my ability and keep fighting for the sakes of this game.
And sure, you may just call softball a 'silly little game' but it's not that at all, to me it's more. It's more than just throwing to get the out, stopping the grounders and hitting the home runs. It's what is in the game if you look closely to see the time and effort that go into having a successful team.
It's about the bond of the pitcher and catcher. It's about the feeling of your team becoming your family and knowing you're never alone. It's about the bus rides to games. It's about the cheering on the sidelines. It's about the practices in the rain. It's about getting as dirty and beat up as you think you possibly can and it's all part of the game.
Seven years ago I was a little girl stepping up to the plate for the first time, missing every pitch that was thrown my way. 7 years ago I was just a girl playing a game.
What I never expected was the bond that has grown between the game and I over the years. It is one that will never be forgotten and will remain forever in my heart. Softball will always be in my blood no matter what life throws at me.
For when I'm on that field, I am complete.
Seeking the elder edge: Pitchers are turning to men's fast-pitch gurus to gain speed, accuracy and mound confidence
A box of fresh dirt in an unfinished basement in Rosemount has become a desired destination for numerous girls' softball pitchers. On the wall are pictures, newspaper clippings, thank-you notes and posters.
'Pop ' pop ' pop' overwhelms the teaching voice of basement tenant Richard Foore as Brooke Pantila windmills neon softballs into a tarp 32 feet across the room.
'There's a lot of pictures down there. I wonder if I'll ever get a picture down there,' the Woodbury senior pitcher said.
If she does, it means Pantila will have become one of the Twin Cities' best. With Foore's track record, she stands a pretty good chance.
The 65-year-old Foore is among a handful of Twin Cities fast-pitch softball instructors who once dominated the men's game. These gurus use their knowledge and experience from the men's game and translate it to the girls' game. The result, many believe, is some of Minnesota's top pitchers.
Last Saturday morning, varsity starters from Prior Lake, Woodbury and Jordan lined up to use Foore's indoor dirt.
Former students include Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year Briana Hassett and about a dozen other Division I scholarship athletes. Foore guessed that he's trained hundreds of all-conference pitchers.
As word spreads about Foore and other instructors, girls seeking an edge enlist them for private lessons that can surpass $100 an hour. Foore charges $60 an hour.
'Rich played a lot of softball and he's successful because he's gone through it and been a pitcher and played against some really good guys,' said Eastview junior pitcher McKenzie Hanegraaf. 'Many of the girls that have come through Rich have been very successful.'
Hanegraff and Pantila were quick to credit Foore for helping them improve their mechanics, accuracy and confidence in ways that four previous coaches could not.
Farmington girls' softball coach Paul Harrington, a well-known former player himself, said about 30 fast-pitch veterans still have a hand in the Twin Cities girls' and women's softball communities.
They include Bruce Harten, Wayne Rudolph, Mike Benning, Daren Betzold, Dick Taylor and Skip Heagle. They've each turned their fast-pitch hobby into teaching area youth softball players. Many of the former players are on various online national fast-pitch registry forums that provide lists of instructors in a given area.
Harten, 70, is convinced his background in men's fast-pitch is the reason his students have done well. Emphasizing no disrespect to the many successful women instructors, Harten claims 'women that pitch like men seem to be faster, have more junk [pitches] and don't wear out.'
'If you ask an old-timer, they can tell you who's been coached by women and who's been taught by men,' he said.
Prior Lake's Caitlin Stone and many other high schoolers say they don't recognize such a difference. But they do see their instruction making a difference in wins and losses, strikeouts and hits, and velocity.
'I've gained a curveball and 5 miles per hour' after several months under Foore's instruction, Stone said.
Rosemount varsity softball coach Tiffany Rose doesn't know if there is a difference or advantage to a men's fast-pitch instructor. She does, however, know the success that can come from it. Rose was Foore's first student 20 years ago. She then played at St. Cloud State.
Foore has since developed a waiting list of girls longing to get into his program. He currently works with 23 girls a week and carries 50 students.
'I think [men] bring a different element to the game,' Rose said. 'Softball wouldn't be what it is today without pitching coaches like Rich. Rich and men like him took us young pitchers and turned us into great pitchers. ' You see more female coaches these days because of the time and effort that men's fast-pitch players have put into girls' fast-pitch.'
Michelle Harrison, who runs an instruction service called Strike Zone Sports, agrees. She is an example of the new and plentiful female presence teaching the Twin Cities' softball players.
Harrison, who learned from an old-time fast-pitch instructor, is thankful for that influence but doesn't link advantage to gender. It's just all about finding the right coach, she said.
'Men pioneered [the sport] for us. ' and we give them credit,' she said. 'It's important to remember that. It's also pretty exciting for girls to take the sport and take a better aim and move forward with it in maybe a better way.'
Star Tribune / Minnesota Softball Hub