Harrodsburg facing battle fielding competitive softball

March 21, 2004|JILL ERWIN

HARRODSBURG - It took Harrodsburg more than a decade to get its fast-pitch softball program started. It's taking even longer to get it competitive.

When the Pioneers met for their first-ever practice two years ago, coach Malissa Hutchins said the players' knowledge of the game left much to be desired.

"It'd have been on the negative scale," Hutchins said. "It was like going out to the park and coaching in a Little League. These girls had never played before. We had to break it down to how to hold the ball, how to hold the bat. We even had a couple of kids that first year we were teaching how to put the glove on."

Harrodsburg had fielded a slow-pitch team before, but the team was disbanded more than a decade ago before Hutchins and others started the planning stages for a fast-pitch team in 1998.


Other area schools had started teams, and the Pioneers were looking for another girls sport to comply with Title IX. Softball was an obvious choice to Hutchins, but it wasn't that easy. It took four more years before the team hit the field.

This year's season starts March 29, but Harrodsburg won't play its first game until April 12.

Senior Chantal Bennett moved to Harrodsburg her sophomore year, the team's first, after having played her freshman year at Christian County.

She said it took some time for the players to grasp the game.

"When we first started, there were some that didn't know the concept of softball," Bennett said. "Some of them didn't even know what a foul ball was."

Hutchins struggled to field a team that first year, as the students were not pouring out to play a sport they were unfamiliar with.

"Coming in, the kids know they're probably not going to be competitive, so that influences them," Hutchins said.

Another problem was Harrodsburg's low enrollment. With only about 200 students, approximately half of them female, Hutchins was already fighting an uphill battle. Add an established and successful track team, tennis team and spring plays, and Hutchins was recruiting from a limited pool.

"It's tough," Hutchins said. "During basketball, you've got basketball going on. Those kids are typically your most athletic and they usually have to choose. But in a school this size, you learn to deal with it, go with the flow, roll with the punches."

Laila Graves is the only member of the softball team to also run track. Hutchins said they've been able to work out a schedule for her to practice both sports.

Wins have also been tough to come by, as Harrodsburg won just one game last year. Junior Amber Lister, who has also been on the team all three years, said the team's goal is to pick up its win total to increase its notoriety around school.

"We're trying to (change it)," Lister said. "I think we'll win more games this year, and we've gotten better as a team."

"It's sort of difficult," Bennett said. "Since it' s not really a big sport, I don't think they really want to get into it."

Players are starting to get into it. The Pioneers have 20 players on the roster, including four middle school players. Anderson-Dean Park has started summer softball leagues, and younger players are starting to pick up the game earlier.

Hutchins said that will help her program as those younger players improve their skills.

"These kids are seeing the excitement around it," Hutchins said. "The whole key is to get your young kids interested because that's how you build your program."

After a rough first two seasons, a foundation is being built at Harrodsburg. The Pioneers are starting to pick up more details about the game and learning to apply them. The team's junior battery, Shunel Sanders and Sarah Roach, have plenty of game experience. Bennett and Lister provide leadership, and less time is having to be spent on basic fundamentals during practice.

But Hutchins knows she can't completely avoid the basics.

"Obviously, our goal every year as a new program is to be more competitive until these kids learn the game," Hutchins said. "We're still looking at seven first-year players. We have a lot of learning to do still. Even the kids that have been playing, they have a lot of learning to do."

One thing they have learned is teamwork. In trying to form an identity in an athletically-prominent high school, the players have come to grasp an important lesson: they need each other.

"Everybody at first didn't really get along, but now we've come together as a team," Lister said. "We realized we've got to be a team to win the games."

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