October 22nd, 2021

FAME: Stronger on the other side

By Michelle Campbell on August 28, 2021.

Medicine Hat Minor Softball had five provincial ‘Thunder’ teams in 2019, a sign of a strong house league and a growing program.

We celebrated all the success attracting and retaining players in all age divisions and prepped for a 2020 season that would have Medicine Hat host four more divisions of Softball Alberta Championships. COVID, of course, complicated all program plans starting in early 2020 and sidelined all competitive play until June 2021.

Five 2021 Thunder teams kept a hopeful goal of attending provincials and finding success on the diamond. With restrictions easing, they ramped up house and Thunder practices and games, and in as few as six weeks, competed provincially.

Preparing for provincial play is an undertaking in a regular year and we know that statistically females in sport were feeling the impact and challenges from being away from their game, yet the Thunder teams all remained competitive across all age divisions and tiered levels.

I reached out to a few players from each team to see how they coped with the physical and mental struggles through COVID, what they attributed their team success to and how it felt to come out on the other end of a season starting with less than 10 kids on a diamond and ending with a provincial tournament.

Not surprisingly, all seven female athletes cited the mental toll that COVID had on their health in regard to the lack of play.

“The entire situation gave me the most enormous sense of hopelessness, thinking that nothing will ever be the way it used to be”, said Camryn Burgevitz, U16 player.

Gracie Ulmer, U14 player echoed saying, “…I felt unmotivated. I wasn’t practicing as much; I was on my electronics more and it was hard to not be with my team.”

In fact, the theme of those months away from sport were ones filled with frustration, discouragement and deflation. Yet when I asked the ladies if they had contemplated quitting, the answer was NO.

With two teams achieving provincial gold (U16C, U14B), one provincial bronze (U12B) and the other two teams barely missing championship rounds with strong game records (3-1 for U19B and U14D) the ladies each attributed the success to a multitude of factors.

Ravyn Lehr on the U12 team talks about the confidence her team had going into the provincial weekend, “…lots of practices. I felt very prepared.”

Mackenzie Tindall, U14 player cited, “Amazing positivity. When we were down…we would always shake it off.”

“Our practices were skill dedicated and we worked hard on getting the basics down and functioning like a team”, said Ryan Sweet, U19 catcher.

All the athletes mirrored sentiments on the importance of fun, trust and team dynamic. In short, while these athletes all had the fastball skills, it was the team cohesiveness that brought success to the diamond.

As for season highlights, it wasn’t always the medals or the win-loss records.

Lehr made special mention to friendships developed with teams from around the province and for Phall Lee, U14 player, “…playing my best and that it was noticed and my hard work paid off.”

Sweet, as well, noted that a highlight was to be recognized as tournament MVP, “I contributed… I was having success at the plate and in the field.”

The athletes explained how those final game moments felt, in a season riddled with hoops to jump through and obstacles to overcome, “…for the longest time we didn’t know if we ever could play a game this year. It made me feel like a million bucks going into the gold medal game, knowing all the practices and the time the coaches put into our team will finally pay off,” Reece Kobelsky, U14 pitcher.

Camryn Burgevitz, U16 gold medalist commented, “I will never forget the amount of pure and utter euphoria I was experiencing when I ran over to hug my team at the dugout.”

This is a program to be proud of… house league, Thunder program, coaches and executive. It is a lifelong game and one that has locally proved to come out stronger on the opposite side of a pandemic.

Michelle Campbell is the Medicine Hat Minor Softball President and a contributing member to Females in Action Moving and Empowering (FAME) committee. Email feedback to famemedicinehat@gmail.com or follow FAME on Facebook at FAME Medicine Hat.

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