Pillar – a person or thing regarded as reliably providing essential support for something.
Character – the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
It’s been nine years since I played my last competitive fastpitch softball game. In the summer of 2007, I was 26 years old when I was playing with some friends one final time before opening Turn 2 later that fall. Somehow I knew it was my last go around playing the sport that I love.
Fall of 2007 brought on many new experiences and milestones in my life. New business, new hometown, and new role on the field – Head Coach of the 10U Extreme Softball Club.
I was hesitant to jump into the coaching world after graduating and finishing my collegiate career in 2004. Summer teams were contacting me asking me to coach their daughter’s team and telling me what they would pay me to do so. Seemed a little odd to me. I was in a bit of a culture shock – paid to coach a summer ball team? Were they serious? Something just didn’t sound right about that.
Two years after graduating college, I was sitting down at a small deli by Webster University with a mentor and friend, Cindy Zelinsky. She was introducing me to Webster University’s Head Softball Coach, Brett Swip. Cindy knew I planned to open a training facility on the IL side of the river later that year, and she also knew I needed a home for the upcoming winter months. After a little bit of talking with Brett, I quickly found out he had a passion for youth sports, softball in particular. Brett and Pete Hoffman, Collinsville High School softball coach at the time, co-founded the Collinsville Extreme as a way to provide opportunities to the girls who played for Coach Hoffman’s high school team. Brett’s sister was playing for Coach Hoffman and he made the trek home to help Pete run the team. What began as a humble vision in 1999 to simply provide an outlet for Brett’s sister, Pete’s daughter, and their classmates to play the game of softball turned into something greater, two unlikely people co-founding a program together. By the time I sat down and met with Brett in the winter of 2007, the Extreme was home to a handful of softball teams ranging in ages from 10U-18U. They also had an indoor training facility that I could use to work with my students that winter. Meeting Brett opened up the doors for me. The Extreme Softball Training Facility became my home. I was also able to work with some of the girls playing in the organization. We would hit on Monday nights in the bitter cold.
That winter gave me a great opportunity to get to know the Extreme and the Collinsville area. Fast-forward 9 months and I was opening Turn 2 Baseball & Softball Training off of Horseshoe Lake Road, south of 157 in Collinsville. I fell in love with Collinsville, the girls I coached on Monday nights, and the thriving softball community. In fact, the first shirts printed with the Turn 2 logo were made that summer – purple shirts with a white Turn 2 logo. I remember handing them out to all the girls I trained that winter during the Extreme Classic (now the Tom Matysik Classic). At the end of the summer, Brett and I were talking seriously about him leaving college coaching and joining me at Turn 2. Brett also felt I would be a great coach for the 10U team that was losing their head coach. We talked about giving back, mentoring, and influencing young ladies in ways of character, integrity, and life lessons. Be a volunteer coach and make a real difference in the lives of these young ladies through the game of softball? I couldn’t wait to get started!
I was really lucky my first year of coaching. I knew at the time I had some great things happening from awesome parent helpers & alumini, Ashley Vallero, an original member of the Extreme Organization being one of them, to coachable kids and supportive parents. Honestly, it wasn’t until later that I truly came to appreciate everything that first year or two meant for me personally. As I reflect on coaching the 10U girls, I’m left with such admiration for the parents I had. They had my back at all times. I was a young person, a new business owner, and a first time head coach. I was full of passion, but I had zero experience on how to do “this.” To celebrate a fun year, Ashley & I had a slumber party at Turn 2 with the 10U girls. We stayed up all night long. I think Ashley and I had as much, if not more fun, than the girls that night. For the first year or two I was in business, my outlets outside of work revolved around the 10U Extreme girls. I looked forward to team bonding events the most. Each event left lasting memories on my heart. We played laser tag, went bowling, had pizza parties, volunteered at different places, and went Christmas Caroling, to name a few. We did all this stuff that had absolutely nothing to do with softball. When the time came to finally take the field, we had our work cut out for us. I still don’t know what our win/loss record ended up being, but I know we lost a heck of a lot more than we won. Every time we came off the field from a loss, I could see the disappointment in the girls’ eyes. I remember watching them pack up the dugout and thinking to myself, “What comes out of my mouth next will influence these girls for years to come.” That is a grave responsibility. The self-image of kids, especially girls, is so fragile. Thankfully my instincts kicked in, and I sent us on a walk away from the field to a quiet place to talk. I found myself telling the kids about what wins and losses mean in the game of life. Some pretty heavy stuff for 9/10 year olds but the kids took it to heart and remembered it from that point on. The parents got the message, and after each win or loss, we walked out of the park together with our heads held high.
The parents who allow their kids to be influenced by people outside the family circle have my respect and admiration. The trust you show when you hand the keys over to someone, like my 10U parents did with me, is such an amazing gift. When you hand the keys of influence over to the right people, your child is shaped for years to come. I had those individuals in my life growing up. It started with the example my parents set and continued with the amazing people I got to grow up around and be coached by.
There is so much more to life than sports, and there is so much more to sports than wins and losses. If you allow it, life can emulate sport and sport can emulate life. It’s what keeps me coming back year after year, and it’s why I wear purple with pride. This organization allows me to mentor young ladies in more than the game of softball because the Extreme cares more about the people the kids will grow into than the win/loss record. That is why I’m here and continue to be here. The impact of great pillars in your son or daughter’s life may not be understood until years later, but know that as an ex ball player, the people who were my pillars are with me every day of my life. Even though it may be years since I have seen a teammate, coach, or a parent of a teammate, they are still with me. I had some amazing pillars in my life and I encourage people to consider this when you watch a practice, team-bonding event, or a conversation someone has with your kid.
As I get ready to turn 35 years old in May, I am once again full of reflection. I love this game because many
people loved me through the trials and tribulations of the sport growing up. Keeping perspective when you are in a slump and encouraging your kid to keep going when it is hard adds value to their life for years to come. Lessons I learned and use today are from this game and the pillars that my parents surrounded me with.
Jen “JD” Doehring