New Jersey Baseball Feature Story
Probably the most significant but least heralded, growing sport in the country today is girls’ and women’s fast pitch softball. Teams and leagues have emerged everywhere and their proliferation shows no signs of slowing down.
Throughout the Garden State girls’ softball has appeared as a scholastic and local recreation addition to leagues and tournaments that have traditionally featured only boys’ baseball in their season schedules. Burgeoning interest in girls’ softball has paralleled the resurgence in boys’ baseball seen throughout the state in the last decade.
Once such girls’ softball team in Somerset County, the Warren Lady Diamonds, has grown quickly and enjoyed success on the field in recent years. Head Coach Ed Shinnick explains that the team, formed in 2007, has competed well in local tournaments and is fast earning a reputation as a competitive and well coached squad.
Over the years Lady Diamonds players have played in different leagues. “The girls were always encouraged to play rec ball in the Warren-Green Brook area,” Lady Diamonds Board Member Lawrence Coven recalls, with many having played on the Warren All-Star team that won the Mid-State Girls Softball League. “What that team accomplished was something special,” Coven continues, “because they eliminated Bridgewater, which was previously undefeated, from the tournament, and then went on to win one more game for the championship.”
Coach Shinnick and Coven credit the Lady Diamonds’ rapid rise to prominence to the dedicated coaches who have shaped and molded the team since its inception. “In particular, former head coach Anthony Marino, gave the team its competitive edge with his knowledge of the game and his passion for excellence on the field.” Having had his daughter, Katie, an excellent pitcher, on the team certainly helped during those early stages of development.
Others parents who have stepped forward include Clark Raphael, Lorie and Andy Hopeck, Nancy Brady, and Brad Eleker. Among these, Eleker brings a long record of coaching championship teams to the teaching of fundamentals to the girls.
Of course, not to be overlooked are Head Coach Shinnick and Coven themselves. Under their stewardship the Lady Diamonds have continued to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. As players have grown and moved on, Shinnick’s main concern, as well as that of the Board, has been to keep the team together and moving in a positive direction. Among other goals, the they have plans to construct a team website and, more importantly, to create a Lady Diamonds training program that will help the girls progress through their middle school years, while giving them competitive game and tournament experience in local recreation leagues and in the Mid-State Girls Softball League.
The program will feature different levels of teams, similar to the structure of local tournaments, with A, B and C brackets, this to ensure maximum participation of all players. Coaches are being identified for the different brackets, and players will be accepted from a wide range of towns and boroughs
The program would give the girls continuity of training from 8u through 14u, placing the Lady Diamonds on a comparable level with other established girls’ softball programs in the state. It would “set a standard that did not exist before and establish linkages with local high schools.” The Lady Diamonds program would serve as a feeder system to the scholastic teams in the area. Players in the end will benefit from professional training, making them a little better than they were before the focus always on continual improvement, as players and as people.
“This program is about the girls, helping them to feel better about themselves while learning to play as a team; the score will take care of itself.” Both Shinnick and his coaches believe that this instructional philosophy will help their young charges to learn from their mistakes. As in baseball and in life, “the hardest thing about this game is that it’s a game of percentages; we fail more than we succeed.’
Despite the encouragement they receive from their coaches and parents, “the girls are really hard on themselves, particularly my daughter (left-handed catcher) Danielle,” Coven continues. With young players the challenge always is to maintain high expectations while minimizing the internal pressure they place on themselves to excel and succeed. On this point “all coaches play an integral role.” With constructive input from them and the parents the girls may learn to accept failure and maintain their dignity and self-esteem.
These constitute life lessons that are invaluable to developing young people; life lessons that the great game of baseball teaches. To start the 2010 season, the Lady Diamonds played in tournaments that pitted them against older teams with more experienced players. The challenge to succeed was formidable, the pressure enormous. Through it all, though, these Lady Diamonds though emerged more resilient, more unified, more refined in their execution of fundamentals.
They will develop, as Coach Shinnick and his array of supportive coaches and parents intend, as competitive players and as mature, young women over time. They will mature and grow as much because of the pressure they place on themselves as a consequence of it. And, in the long run they will be better off for the experience.
After all, pressure over time produces diamonds, and that is every bit the case with these Lady Diamonds.