No sector of the population has been affected by the new coronavirus crisis. Everything from doing business to going to the grocery store has gone to a new normal due to on-site shelter orders and social distancing.
Like many sports, softball has stopped as the pandemic continues to spread through training, tournaments and the recruitment of the American team has been suspended until further notice. While the NCAA has granted another year of eligibility for spring sports athletes, high school and club players are losing opportunities to be seen by college coaches.
According to Bill Conroy, the Beverly Bandits’ coach, the biggest dilemma is whether a college coach would rather lose a player he could have for four years against a player he could have for a year.
“I think the new (recruiting) rules will have an impact on class 2021 and class 22,” said Conroy, whose 16U team captured the first national PGF championships last summer.
“There are variables that will make it interesting to see how schools and coaches react. This year, scholarships will not be limited. But after that, they will be. Coaches will need to make these decisions relatively early before seeing a senior game. “
– Bill Conroy, Beverly Bandits
Lillian Vallimont is a good example. Tennessee championship receiver Mojo made a verbal commitment to Northwestern and was preparing to play his first season with Cabrini (Michigan) High when the season was canceled. But Vallimont, who played with the national championship team of the PGF Bandits before joining the Mojo this season, is more concerned about how the closure will affect the 2020 class than his own.
“It’s very confusing at the moment,” admitted Vallimont. “I want to see how all the coaches will deal with it next year. I graduated in 2022, so I have more time. I feel for the 2020s because they get right to the point. “
Since the pandemic forced teams to close down on-site facilities, players and coaches have had to be creative in the way they train and interact with each other. Many teams take advantage of virtual meeting platforms, group SMS and social media to stay in touch and motivate themselves. This was not a problem for Mojo coach Josh Fisher, who led his team to the 2019 PGF Premier 14U Championship.
“All of my kids (this season) are in 2004,” said Fisher. “They all make group texts, videos, applications. They communicate a ton. “
When the Bandits’ third base player / fielder, Cassidy Grimm, celebrated their 18th birthday, the team got together for a virtual party on the Zoom Cloud meeting platform.
“It was good to see,” said Conroy. “I think everyone keeps positive thoughts and works their best individually.”
Some players, like Vallimont, have the advantage of training with their sisters at home during downtime. Michaleigh Vallimont, a senior indoor field player with Cabrini High, will play for central Michigan next season. Lillian trains regularly with her and their stepfather, hitting and throwing daily.
“I love to train, so I do my workouts every day,” said Vallimont. “My parents went to buy a generator for $ 600 just so I could use a machine because all the facilities are closed.”
The second base player of the bandits Easton Lotus has two brothers and two sisters, all of whom play baseball or softball. His younger sister Emma, a first year, is also with the bandits. Younger sister Demi plays for a local 10U travel team. The brothers Mickey, 12, and Peter, 8, both play travel baseball. Their father Pete, a local high school coach, was an outfielder at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Easton’s mother Nikki played in the outdoor field for the UIC softball team.
In the sibling rivalry fashion, training and other family activities can be quite intense in the Lotus home.
“We push each other,” said Easton, a 2021 enlisted in Louisville who also plays for Marist High School near Joliet, Illinois. “We can’t play board games or anything because it always ends up fighting.”
There is no substitute for playing situations, but such competitiveness certainly helps keep players mentally sharp, which will be important once play is resumed. Jazz Jackson Vesely, president and program director of Impact Gold, believes his players are even more mentally focused during the shutdown than before.
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“I think our kids realized they had lost something special,” said Vesely, who also trains a 16U team. “I saw them do more work this spring than in a normal spring or fall. I have children who swing 800, 900 times a week alone. I think they are hungry because (softball) has been removed. “
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Coaches have their own questions and challenges. How long will players need to get in shape if tournaments and storefronts are rescheduled? Should they book trips and hotel reservations with the season on hold? For Vesely, who supervises several teams, this is particularly delicate.
“I provide a service to families,” she said. “Trying to navigate the delicate waters of how long should I continue to work as usual, without having a master plan … It never happened.”
For Fisher, who travels constantly throughout the year to train or just watch games, suddenly stopping all activities was a shock to his system.
“Life without softball has been brutal,” admitted Fisher.
Whether or not there is softball in 2020 remains in doubt. But most coaches and players are optimistic about the future. Some people think that playing sports is secondary to everyone’s health and safety. Others believe that society as a whole will emerge from the crisis stronger than ever.
“I learned not to take gambling or family members for granted,” said Easton.
“After it’s all over, once I see my family, I’m going to hug them a little harder, just cherish that they are there. When I train, I (may) be tired, but I will never take a representative for granted, as it could be the last. “
– Easton Lotus, Beverly Bandits