Young Lady Panthers get ready for tournament
The “eight and under” Lady Panthers Softball Team warming up for their practice is a sight to see. This all-star team has been together for only a couple weeks, being made up of a combination of players from two Collinsville teams from the regular season.
Their parents sit on the bleachers beside the dugout, commenting on how the practice is going, sometimes shouting encouragement or pointers to the girls on the field. Most of the encouragement, though, comes from the girls themselves. “Hustle, hustle, everybody” says one as they make their way to the field in their chosen positions for the day.
The 15 girls on the team are all between the ages of 6 and 9. A group of their fathers, Cody McAteer, Andy Daugherty, Todd Cherry, and Tyler Coker, serve as coaches for the team.
A mother of one of the players, Lydia Petty, said that several of the girls are related, making softball a family event in Collinsville. But even those not in the same family, she added, “have all known each other for a while.”
Many of the current players began playing together in 2020. Because of the pandemic, the team was not able to attend many tournaments and did not perform as well as they hoped. However, this experience paid off for them the next year when they were sent to the state tournament for the first time.
The team’s 2022 regular season record was 33 wins to 5 losses. This allowed them to get another chance at the state tournament during the 2022 All-Star season. Over the month of June, they will play in several tournaments leading up to their state tournament in Prattville from June 23-25.
Over the course of the season, the girls practice twice a week for two hours. During these practices, they split their time between hitting and field practice. The practices often go until 8 p.m., but the young players still get up the next morning ready to go again.
Their dedication is evident in their ability on the field. Described by Petty as “feisty go-getters,” many of these young girls can bat or catch a softball from across the field. As softball is a popular sport in Collinsville, Petty said that it is likely that many of these girls will still be playing in high school.
Although the All-Star team is a combination of two regular season teams, Petty said that “no one had a problem making friends” as the majority go to school together and are even in the same grades and classes. In addition to softball, many of these girls also play other youth-league sports such as volleyball and basketball together.
Marlee Colvin, a 7-year-old team member, said her favorite parts of softball are batting and playing with her friends. She also enjoys getting to travel to tournaments.
While the players are working hard to do their best at the tournaments, their parents and coaches are raising money to cover the costs associated with them such as tournament fees and hotel stays.
The players and their families are now reaching out to the community, taking not only monetary donations but also snacks and sports drinks for long days at the ball fields. Reverend Carol Gullatt of the Collinsville First United Methodist Church wrote and received a grant to support the Lady Panthers. Gullatt said she hopes to be able to host a send-off for the team before their final tournament at the end of June.
For more information on the team, donations, and the send-off, visit: https://www.facebook.com/collinsvillefirstumc