25 summers have come and gone. Over 250 young girls have worn the uniform and played for the SweetHearts over the years. Others have joked that I should change the name but where are THEY now? A few of the girl's names and faces have faded away. Some have gone on to continue to play softball, others never played another game. As I look back on those years I remember many of the girls who graced my lineup cards. Micky, Toby, Sara, Jessica, Chelsha, Taylor, Anna, Meghan, April, Kara, and dozens upon dozens more. They may have forgotten me but the SweetHearts will not forget them. "Once a SweetHeart, Always A SweetHeart'.
The softball diamond has been my playground for a quarter of a century, half my life has been given to this sport and this team. I tell my assistants over the years that I have to coach on the sideline at least one inning of every game so that I can continue a tradition that has spanned more that 365 games. Over the years there have been many women and men that have helped me along the way and to them I am indebted. They have stepped up to spend time with their daughters even when they know they can't be there every game or practice. I do this partly for them so that they can enjoy the game as much as I do.
Every spring I look forward to the smell of the grass, dirt, and concessions. I look forward to having a great summer with "my girls". 25 years makes you teary-eyed as you look back to remember playing on muddy fields, behind schools, in the rain, playing "to at least win one game", playing "to win them all". There has been 1-13 years right along with the 13-1s. There have been years where you don't see how you can keep doing this and years that you never want it to end.
Coaches and fans alike say "I don't know how you keep doing this, it would drive me crazy." It's the girls, the hope that someday they will want their daughters playing for a coach that cares. It's the sparkle I see in their eyes years later as they remember a game that they 'starred' in.
The 25th season turned out to be a year that I wished would never end. The chemistry of the girls, the friendships with the parents, the memories that for me will last a lifetime and are too numerous to count. From the homeruns from "rookie players", to the 'worm' steal of third base, to the struggles of playing against tournament teams and the "I want it my way" lost to the 'power hitting' shows of the last three games of the season.
Taylor, Blanche, Megan, Leah, Jeannette, Tracy - you will always be very special to me. You made this year something unique when the media didn't seem to care. Former players didn't come by but you still made me smile after 25 years. You made me laugh. You became my daughters for the summer. Even with Jeanette's asking me about a 'nap' or not you made me want to be here. You made me understand why I still coach. You are what this team is all about. Terrah, Savannah, Sammi, Shelby, and Micaela make it impossible to leave. There is a very bright future and I want to be there to share it with you. Because I get new players every year that I get attached to, I may never be able to leave this team.
When God carries me home someday, I simply want to be remembered as a good coach and caring friend. On my tombstone I hope it reads "This was his playground".
25 years from now I don't know what they will say about the SweetHearts. Will they still be asking if I will ever retire? Will they just put me on the SPAR Wall of Honor before I ever retire? Will God allow me to keep coaching until he needs a softball coach upstairs? Can I even make 25 more years? Will I just be a forgotten name on a plaque and tombstone somewhere? Will the SweetHearts just fade from memory?
For now, thanks to every SweetHeart I had for the past wonderful 25 years. You will always be my SweetHearts.