Growing A Crop Of Character In River League Girls’ Softball

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The dirt here is hard – puffs of dust cloud around running feet. 

The sun is hot and emotions are high, but controlled. 

The metaphor of gardening is an easy one when you see the crop as – little girls. 

This is "8 and under" girls softball; members of the River League, more than a dozen teams up and down both sides of the Ohio River from Tuppers Plains to New Haven, West Virginia and points between.

These girls – 6 to 8 years old are surprisingly good – and getting better.

Moms, dads, grandparents and friends sit on bleachers and lawn chairs urging on their team – actually both teams. 

But when you talk to these spectators you hear more about the life-lessons being taught here than fielding, pitching or batting.

“I think she’s doing very well she’s building her confidence up.  She’s doing better with her skills and learning to be a team player, to root for her team and cheer them on and get them positive and pumped up when they’re disappointed or in a slump.  She’s learning to be a good team player as well as improving her skills.”

Jody Jordan from Meigs County is watching her daughter Jaycie on third base. 

Jordan is one of the parents here who is juggling games tonight with more than one child in the field.

"My husband and I divide up and go different directions as tonight he’s in Pomeroy with a child and we’re down here in New Haven so it gets pretty interesting.”

These are parents without borders – geography doesn’t mean a lot.

Amy Buffington’s son plays on the Mason, West Virginia Pony League team while daughter Paige plays for Pomeroy.

"Actually we live over in Pomeroy, but the Middleport teams were full so we went ahead and he came over to Mason, they didn’t have enough kids."

Paige, playing for the Pomeroy Foxies was nervous at first moving up to the bigger league according to her mom.

“She’s doing good when she first started we went to the first game and she said ‘I hope we don’t have to hit tonight,’ and I said ‘Why wouldn’t you want to hit?’ and she said ‘I’m just not very good at it yet’ and I said ‘You won’t be  the first one to strike out and you aren’t going to be the last one,’  but after a couple games she hits every time pretty much.”

The game with New Haven was close for a while. 

The Foxies closed the gap to a four-run deficit, but the Cardinals put it away.

Coach Julie Gilkie takes it in stride.

“When you’re the coach you’re the best coach when you win and you’re the worst coach when you lose."

Tonight the parents here seemed to think she was still the best coach, despite the loss.

Gilkie and her husband coach different teams in the league.

They're so tied up during the summer that neither has time for a vacation.

Still, she said she sees the bigger picture: teaching life-lessons to these girls.

“… it teaches you that when you’re down there’s always a way to come back and a way to fight and battle back – that just because you’re down doesn’t mean that it’s over and you’re done.

Losses, she said, are to be taken with successes along the way.

"You have to look at the little things and the good things that you do and be proud of the small things and the good hit that maybe didn’t win the game but that’s still just as important and that you back your teammates and that you play together. “

Her daughter Allie seems to have been listening and learning:

“Well we tried our best.”

“Good that we got fourth place and we stayed in there we only got two lost.”

But Paige hasn't lost her priorities. 

When asked what is the best part of playing softball she responds with a giggle.