It was the fall of 2016 and our daughter was invited to play for her first travel team. She was excited for the honor but somewhat nervous about accepting a new challenge. Janiah had played a few travel games earlier that year and she was shocked at how different it was from recreational softball. The pitching was much quicker, the fielders were more skilled and the hitters drove the ball hard.
She and her little sister Janay were coming off of a championship in their second season of recreational ball and we felt it was time for them to take on a new challenge. Janiah was up to the challenge but Janay was a bit apprehensive opting instead to play a couple more seasons of recreation ball. She would later regret not believing in herself enough to try out for the Lady Cardinals. She missed out on a great opportunity.
For a family cutting its teeth in the crazy world of travel softball we couldn’t have started with a better organization. There was a buzz and excitement around that team. We weren’t stacked with talent but the coaching staff got the most out of what we had. For most of the girls it was their first season playing travel ball but the positive energy and reinforcement of the coaching staff gave our players confidence. They believed that they could play on this level because their coaches believed they could.
Simple men with simple names, Charles, Christopher, Mark, Stephen, Stephen Jr. and occasionally a coach by the name of Bell stopped by to motivate and inspire the girls. Every coach played his part, no toes were stepped on and they stayed on one accord. Win or lose the team stayed energized because it started from the top. Those men set the tone and our daughters happily followed.
The families got along well and showed unconditional support for one another. The love was in the air that magical Fall as we flocked to the West Orange Girls Club to cheer on our Lady Cardinals. Daddy ball never reared its ugly head on this team. All the coaches had a child or relative on the team but they always put the team first. Players earned what they got in the form of playing time and at bats and we as parents and fans appreciated that.
In defeat we respected our opponents and stayed united as a team. There was no finger pointing or blame deflecting; we won as a team, we loss as a team. After winning our first tournament we gathered at a local lodge and celebrated our girls’ accomplishments. Later that month we enjoyed our team party at the same location. That was a season certainly to be celebrated; we were so proud of them. The best of times!
As Winter settled in Steve and Stephen Junior decided to start an organization or their own. They had a sound business model and financial strength behind them and they were moving forward. We were grateful to be offered an opportunity to join them but felt a sense of loyalty to our Lady Cardinals and the coaches who first believed in our daughter. So we stayed and geared up for the Spring.
Steve successfully started their new organization and would eventually become a power house that all of our children have joined or guest played for at some time or another. As for our Lady Cardinals we continued on after losing four of our older players and of course Steve’s talented granddaughter. Players joined and blended right in. More great families joined us and we continued to fight. Growth was had as our girls did battle on the diamond. Still so very proud I smiled on watching this team continue to over achieve.
As the season slowed to a close, decisions had to be made considering our beloved Lady Cardinals. There were disagreements about in which direction the organization should go and maybe an overall lack of communication. I wasn’t on the inside so I can not offer many details but I knew decisions had to be made. Sadly we were seeing our first travel softball home crumble right before our eyes.
Steve’s organization was growing and after guest playing with them half of the team decided to play for them with Charles heading up the team. The others were split between an organization in Windermere and the team our daughter joined. Some were disappointed at our decision but we made the decision that was best for our family. The best decision of all for us would have been for the team to stay together and move forward but it has been said that all good things must come to an end.
I will never forget those two magical seasons and all of the people, players and coaches who made them great. That was what youth softball was all about, getting the most out of what you’ve bee Blessed with. Working as hard as you can to be successful and leaving it all out on the diamond. It was about those girls and their development, not the coaches and their egos. Winning was important but not the only goal. I believe that every player, coach and parent is better for having the honor of being a part or our Ocoee Lady Cardinals U10 Travel Softball Team. Those seasons and folks I will never forget and always appreciate because to me we are and will forever be; team family.