BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Any time a young athlete hob-nobs with a professional is a big deal. But to be able to sit in the same dugout during a professional sporting event and watch idols in action, well, that is another story. But that is what happened to two local fastpitch softball players after they were invited to be bat girls for the USSSA Pride during a National Pro Fastpitch game in Chicago.
“It was a wonderful experience for the girls; they were side-by-side with Olympic softball players,” said Jim Clouse, head softball coach at Western High School. Clouse also is prominent in the Howard County Thunder girls fastpitch softball organization. “It was pretty cool to see our two girls get to stand on the (foul) line with the Pride during the National Anthem.”
The two Howard County softball players, Kokomo High School freshman Sarah Haughn and Western freshman Jenna Wiechmann, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Pride players, including U.S. Olympians Jessica Mendoza and Natasha Watley.
“Jessica really arranged this for us,” said Clouse. “I (had the opportunity) to go out on the field and take pictures. And when both teams lined up after the game to sign autographs, there was Sarah and Jenna standing in line with the teams just like they were part of them.
“It was really cool experience,” said Clouse, who led the Lady Panthers to the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four last spring. “We (Howard County Thunder) are trying to provide something more than just travel softball. We want it to be an experience, and we hope that Jessica will be able to do this with a couple more girls next year.”
Clouse said the professional fastpitch players want to teach the game and encouraged the girls to ask questions while they were around the Big League program.
“You just don’t see that a lot with professional athletes,” he said. “I know you can’t compare this to Major League Baseball. But, Natasha Watley is the Derek Jeter of softball. She is the best, there is no question. It is just nice that they relate to the kids like they do. For those girls sitting in that dugout is a special experience.”
He said Mendoza talked to both girls before the game and told them she had an assignment for them – they both had to report back to her one thing offensively and one thing defensively that they learned while watching the game. She wants the kids to become better by attending a game. Clouse said the experience will not only help Haughn and Weichmann, but also will be a benefit to their high school teams.
“I want them to go back and talk about what they saw: the preparation the professional players go through,” he said. “It is much more than being good, these professional athletes love the sport and that is what I want our girls to take back to their schools. It is about what they do on the on deck circle, or the routines they had between pitches, or during warm-ups. That is what the kids need to learn to do to become better players. And they did pick up on those things.”
Clouse is confident that the trip to Chicago to watch professional softball will enhance the local softball programs, not only at Kokomo and Western, but throughout the county.
NOTE: NPF, formerly the Women’s Pro Softball League, is intended to provide family entertainment for people of all ages and to showcase the top talent in fastpitch softball today. It is the goal of the League to entertain and provide positive role models for young people. NPF demonstrates work ethic, dedication, and love for the sport of fastpitch softball. NPF athletes exhibit this through their actions, both on-and-off the field. They are prominent people within their communities and appreciate and embrace the fans that follow their play through NPF action.