Archive for Thursday, May 1, 2008

The eephus pitch

May 1, 2008

Two days, four wins; that's not a bad start to the week for the Wildcats softball team.

Rooting interests aside - I have none - it was good to see a high school coach and her team that has struggled for wins in the recent past enjoy some success.

I've watched many a game this season that weren't ever close. It's a very young team, so I don't think that's a reflection on where the program is headed.

But the direction of the program is not what this column is about.

The point of high school athletics, like anything else in high school, is to teach adolescents. Teaching young athletes to compete and work together as a team is something that goes well beyond high school into people's personal and professional lives.

In those blowout games, like the 16-1 loss at Baldwin in the first doubleheader of the season, encouraging things could be seen that reflect this principle that there is a greater good in high school athletics.

Two things surfaced that caught my attention.

I'm a coach's son. I grew up in locker rooms and spent plenty of afternoons getting pulled out of school by my father to sit on his teams' benches.

I grew up watching how athletes worked to better themselves, as well as how coaches managed their players to get the very most out of them.

One of the two things that stuck out to me in those early blowout games was that coach Melissa Wible never stopped coaching.

No one likes to lose. The end may be to teach young athletes character (hard work, courage, determination, toughness, etc.), but the goal is to reach these traits and win. Showing them how to win and what it takes to win are the lessons that carry over into other areas of life.

Being down 5-1, 10-1, 15-1 or whatever, Wible didn't stop giving signs. She didn't stop yelling at every batter and trying to coax hits out of them. She never stopped encouraging her player on the mound.

Games were out of hand, but she didn't give up on her players. I know she's not the only coach at De Soto who is like this (I haven't met one who's not) but oftentimes it takes getting blown out for true colors to really surface and become validated.

The second thing that I saw, was how that rubbed off on her players.

And she does have a young squad. The majority of her players are sophomores and freshmen. So at that young of an age, players are a little easier to mold than an upperclassman. You might even say it's worked out fortunately for all of them, even though there were some tough times and some more probably to come.

But never did her players give up on her or the team. I've heard "C'mon bud" said more times while watching that team than I've heard anywhere else. It's got to be the same frequency as that old Budweiser commercial with the three frogs staring at the neon sign.

One doesn't have to be a fan of a certain team to appreciate that. I've watched more high school games in the past year than in any other time in my life. It doesn't matter who wins the games to me.

But seeing those principles in coaches at the high school level makes a person a fan of all sports. You can see the bigger picture. As mentioned earlier, we all hate to lose, but remaining upbeat, staying positive, is not the same as accepting defeat. There's a line.

Accepting defeat is continuing to lose and doing nothing to get better. It's been encouraging seeing the De Soto softball team get better under a second-year, young coach.

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