BEECHER CITY, Ill. — During a hot and steamy August morning at the Beecher City park, Carolyn Wendte was doing what she’s been doing for nearly 30 years — getting her junior high softball team ready for another season. It’ll be her 28th season coaching the Beecher City/Cowden-Herrick Eagles. More than 30 of her girls have gone on to play softball at some level of intercollegiate competition — including one at the Division I level. But they got their start on steamy August mornings like this one, learning the game under sometimes adverse conditions.

“It’s all about fundamentals,” Wendte said. “You can’t progress unless you know the fundamentals.”

Wendte said one advantage of coaching junior high and high school softball is that the girls learn her system — the way she wants things done.

“The kids know what’s expected of them by the time they get to high school,” she said.

Unlike the girls in larger communities, few of the Beecher City/Cowden-Herrick Eagles play summer ball.

“I’ve got three or four girls who play on traveling teams, but it’s getting harder to ask the kids to play in summer leagues,” Wendte said. “As a coach, at some point you have to back off.”

Wendte questions the value of traveling teams for girls in elementary school.

“I don’t think it’s that effective before junior high,” she said. “I think we push girls at too early an age.”

Once again, Wendte has longtime assistant Larry Young manning the first base coaching box for the Eagles. Young, who has taught generations of kids how to succeed at a variety of sports, is a big believer in junior high athletics.

“Junior high athletics is a must,” Young said. “It teaches both boys and girls a lot about teamwork and gives them a lot of opportunity. The kids meet a lot of different people from a lot of different towns.”

Most of the girls play multiple sports. Catcher Sydney Lorton, an eighth-grader, plays softball and also runs cross-country in the fall. Then she begins playing basketball, before moving onto volleyball and track. Lorton said she likes the team aspect of softball.

“In softball, you work as a team and that’s fun,” she said.

Madison Cherry, another multi-sport athlete who participates in basketball, volleyball and track, said the constant activity is good for her.

“It keeps me healthy,” she said. “I don’t get sick as often.”

Madison’s mother, Donna, said her daughter’s participation in athletics also serves as a motivating factor on the academic side of school, as well.

“It keeps her grades up,” Donna said.

Madison has played summer ball for the Central Illinois Elite and Mattoon Cobras. She hopes to play in college.

Wendte has begun to see some second- and even third-generation girls come through her program. One is Carrie Burks, mother of five-sport athlete Carsen.

“It keeps her in shape and keeps her out of trouble,” Carrie said.

She knows the drill, having starred in softball and volleyball for Wendte in the early 1990s before playing softball at Millikin University.


Source: Effingham Daily News, http://bit.ly/2bYs577


Information from: Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the Effingham Daily News.