Most softball travel organizations do not see success on a national level, and an even greater majority of them will never win a national championship within their first three years of competing. For the Virginia Unity organization those two goals of going national and winning a national championship, became reality when they won the 2017 ASA/USA Softball 18U Gold National Championship.
To genuinely appreciate the accomplishment of the Virginia Unity, you must understand just how it all started the small town of Fredericksburg in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the fall of 2014 with just one 18U level team. Josh Johnson, with the assistance of Mark Ratcliff and Ritchie Jacobs, had the vision to create a better opportunity for the talented softball players in the local area.
“I was a local high school coach getting out of education and several of the girls and parents from the high school team wanted me to continue to coach them,” stated Johnson. “I got wife’s approval and we sought out and got the best players in the area using the local paper’s All-Area team.”
When asked to describe softball sensation Renae Cunningham in just two words, much like trying to hit her pitching, it becomes a tough task. Some may choose the words “Gentle Giant” given her stature and humility. Some may be more straightforward and use “Great Player”. Her head coach Cray Allen, of the Beverly Bandits – Allen, liked the words “Controlled, Calculated”.
“Her approach is always a calm one. It seems like the moment is never too big for her, which allows her teammates to feed off that quiet confidence,” said Allen. “The way she goes about her game is such a blessing in today’s world of highs and lows. She never gets rattled and stays calm and focused through each situation.”
In a day and age of the never ending selfie and self promotion, the way Cunningham carries herself on the field is refreshing. Even Cunningham admits, “I’m a pretty simple person.”
How Ray Seymour left a Legacy for a new Generation of Successors.
by Ryan Greenwood – Fastpitch Network
This year will mark the 40th anniversary for the Tampa Mustangs travel softball organization. It is one of the oldest and most successful organizations on the national stage. Since the summer of 1981, the club has won 27 National Championships in each of the age divisions and had over 400 players to go on to play college softball at over 60 different colleges.
Founder Ray Seymour, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 72, and his wife, Cathy, started the travel softball organization to give local girls an opportunity to continue to play competitively at a high level after their local recreational leagues were finished. They were the first travel softball team on the West Coast of Florida.
When Warren Wolfe started the Ohio Outlaws organization with just one team back in 2009, his plans were much bigger than just staying local. He had a vision to grow an organization to help the players in the area get more exposure during the recruiting process and to compete on a national level.
“I started the Ohio Outlaws because there was no one in the states of Ohio, West Virginia or Western Pennsylvania taking the girls to play the best competition and getting them the college exposure they deserved,” stated Wolff.
Although they started out playing locally as the program was getting its foundation established, they started to hit their stride as they expanded their playing area to compete on a regional level. From there, they got the attention of coaches and players from these tournaments. They started to see an interest in others wanting to be part of what they were doing.
As Beverly Smith heads into her 11th season at the helm as head coach of the South Carolina softball program, who better to deal with change and the often-heard phrase “new normal.” She has dealt with change since she took over the program in 2010. That change resulted in the Gamecocks going to NCAA postseason play 7 of the 10 years. Those changes saw her become only the 2nd softball coach in South Carolina history to get over 300 career wins.
That experience in dealing with adjustments and the ability to stay on top of the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 world that we all work to adjust to, could be the difference in how the season plays out for the Gamecocks.
When you finally get to southern California to play softball, you will quickly learn that he is also the head of the Explosion Softball organization that has some talented teams on the west coast in California, Arizona, and Utah.
“It always starts with the coaching. Look for coaches that are in this game for the right reasons,” says Denio. “I always do research and make sure these coaches are in it for the right reasons and are not there for financial gain.”
Not many young players are wise beyond their age to show a sense of loyalty in the modern era of sports. From the professional athlete to the youth player, migrating from team to team is not an uncommon occurrence. That was not the choice or case for McKaela Walker.
“One strength that she developed at a very young age was loyalty,” said Todd Mayfield, head coach of the East Cobb Bullets – Mayfield team. “She’s very loyal to her coaches, loyal to her teammates, and very loyal to the organization she plays for.”
When you grow up in the northeast, hockey is the sport of choice to maximize your time outside playing sports and hanging out with friends. For John Knopf, that was where he cut his teeth in sports and how he ended up getting drafted and spending time in the Vancouver Canucks organization.
“As a hockey player, it was great growing up in the northeast. I played hockey from October on outside,” said Knopf.
After his hockey days were over, friends convinced him to give fastpitch softball a try, given his athleticism and his need for a fun way to burn youthful energy. Those times were fast and furious but gave him an indoctrination into the game.
Some might wonder if you can start a softball team, much less a softball organization, with just ten players. Kevin O’Donnell, of the Intensity Softball organization, would have no doubts based on his experience.
When O’Donnell started his first New Jersey Intensity softball team in 2002, they only had ten girls on the team.
“We started with a group of ten committed girls,” said O’Donnell. “We came from a town team.”