Spring is normally a season filled with college acceptance letters and high school softball. However, COVID-19 has devastated sports at the high school level, including girls softball. Adding to the woes is the fact that travel softball teams suspend their operations during the high school season. Therefore, female softball players have no access to organized softball anywhere. Serious players have adapted to this situation in numerous ways including hitting off a tee, playing catch with a parent or sibling, virtual coaching, and greater use of online recruiting sites. What led to schools being shut down?
According to the California Department of Public Health, as of April 16, 2020, there are 28,963 positive cases of COVID-19 and 1,072 deaths in the state of California. As you can see from the data visualization below, Los Angeles County has the highest number of cases.
Due to COVID-19 concerns in the state of California, Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District closed all facilities on March 21, 2020. Therefore, both Palos Verdes High School and Palos Verdes Peninsula High School located in Palos Verdes, California were affected by the closure. In addition, on April 3, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state office canceled all spring high school sporting events, including girls softball games.
Julia Kate (JK) Bradley — Palos Verdes Peninsula High School
Tim Hall, varsity head softball coach at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, has been coaching at the school since 1995. The coronavirus action hit the school so abruptly that Hall did not have much time to sort out the details with his players. However, he urged each of them to keep a log of their physical activity in order to maintain their skills during this time.
Not only was the softball season in full swing before the virus disruption, but so was the recruiting process. Hall has a junior player on the team who is experiencing this challenge first-hand.
Junior outfielder for the Peninsula High School softball team and avid travel player, Julia Kate (JK) Bradley, found herself going from everyday practices, games on the weekends, and private hitting lessons, to no organized activity. In order to be at the top of her game when normal life resumes, she has created a schedule and routine for herself during the quarantine.
“I have a gym that I normally go to and they have given me weights that I can train at home with,” Bradley said. “They post different workouts everyday online that I do.”
Due to the fact that no games, showcases, or team practices are occuring, the softball recruiting process has had to adapt. College coaches are having to replace in-person scouting with viewing video of the players in action.
“Almost everyday I hit off the Bow-Net or a tee in my backyard. Wherever I can, I get stuff in,” Bradley said. “I want to be able to show the coaches that I am doing my best to get the work in because that is very important to me.”
In order to allow these college coaches to continue to see her skills, Bradley films herself performing the various drills. She will then post the content on her online portfolio through Sports Recruits or her YouTube Channel to send to the coaches. She also posts game footage to highlight her actual performance on the field. Due to the disruptions of COVID-19, the necessity of developing a compelling digital presence has taken on an increased importance.
Sisters Hannah Allen and Rachel Allen — Palos Verdes High School
Patrick Fresch, varsity head softball coach at Palos Verdes High School, was entering his seventh season coaching the Sea Kings softball team. With seven juniors and two seniors, the team was full of veteran players who hoped to take their skills to the next level in college. They were favored to win their third straight Bay League Championship.
With the school facility on complete lockdown and softball fields in the areas closed off, the players had to develop their own methods to maintain their skills during this pandemic.
Two sisters on the team, sophomore Hannah Allen and senior Rachel Allen, have taken advantage of the fact that they have each other to practice with. Even though there are no games, no practice, and no private hitting lessons, they have found a way to create some sort of normal softball routine.
“We go outside and throw, do some stretching, hit off the tee, soft toss, and stuff like that,” Rachel Allen said. “Before it got super serious, we would go up to the park we live by and do long-toss or hit wiffle balls.”
However, there are definitely some challenges they have already started to face as they are attempting to transition into this new quarantine practice structure.
“Of course, playing as a team and developing those skills together is different,” Rachel Allen said. “But live hitting and not being able to hit off of a live pitcher is definitely a hard part of it.”
Not only is it difficult to maintain their softball skills during this time, but with Hannah being a sophomore, she was in the middle of the recruitment process when the season ended. Her mom, Jill Allen, explains why continuing her skills and creating this schedule is important especially for her.
“It’s recruiting season, it’s the biggest season now and it’s a meaningful time, especially to Hannah,” Jill Allen said. “To be able to show and hope that you are able to play at a level that is interesting enough to look at is very important.”
Being a previous travel softball coach himself, Patrick Fresch is very aware of the details of the recruiting process. Each player has an online portfolio containing all of their video content for colleges to see, which has to replace any opportunity for a coach to see live, on-field performance.
With a schedule created to ensure the two sisters are putting their work in everyday, the mental game is another aspect that is important to them to continue to develop throughout this process. Katie Cheadle, former softball player at Long Beach, holds online instruction for the mental game of the sport. Rachel and Hannah have utilized Zoom to train with Cheadle almost every week during this quarantine period.
“Strengthening your brain goes beyond the sport…just the life lessons that you learn from it are phenomenal. I just think this is a great thing as you send your kids off into the world,” Jill Allen said. “This is a good time to put a little bit of time into what we need to.”
There are softball players like Julia Kate (JK), Hannah, and Rachel all over the United States who are facing the challenge of maintaining their skills in the absence of team play and practices. Each must develop her own routine.
Nicole Shearin is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is also minoring in sport management and earning the Sports Media Certificate.
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