With an eye on the future four new coaches and a pair of veteran coaches return to take their places in the local high school softball dugouts this spring.
All three local Foothills Council teams - Gloversville, Johnstown and Broadalbin-Perth - will have new head coaches as will Western Athletic Conference contenders Fort Plain and Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville and Wells of the Northern Softball League.
Although the coaches for Fort Plain and OESJ are new on the roster this year, they bring experience to the diamond.
Gloversville varsity softball coach Stephanie Luce puts the ball in play for infield practice Friday in the gym at Gloversville High School. Luce is one of six new softball coaches at the local school districts. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
After a five-year hiatus, Don Stockwell returns to guide the Lady Hilltoppers, while Dan Hart, who coached the Dolgeville and St. JOE (St. Johnsville-Oppenheim-Ephratah) squads in the past, will take over the OESJ Wolfpack.
"The transition has been easier being we are into this combined team for several years," Hart said. "Parents, coaches, and players are already use to many of the changes that are happening and it is easier for us as we move forward. Having the combined school district now also allows us more practice facilities. Modified, JV and varsity teams all have two-hour practices by themselves in the gym, and once we are outside the same will happen."
Stockwell guided the Lady Hilltoppers to 252 victories and multiple sectional championship games in 13 years before taking time off from coaching to be with his family.
"I have always missed the team and the games themselves," Stockwell said. "What I didn't miss was the everyday grind and it took me away from my family too much. I don't think they [the team] even know too much of my past and as far as wins, I know they have no clue. They do know that I was successful, but that is about it."
Carrie Spraker becomes the fourth coach in as many seasons for the Broadalbin-Perth Lady Patriots. She has been honing her coaching skills as a member of the B-P coaching staff at the modified and junior varsity levels.
"I coached JV softball last year and modified softball under Gary Roorda as head coach," Spraker said. "I'm very familiar with the program as I attended and played at BP. Many of the girls are returning players and are aware of the expectations and goals of the season. The girls have been great and very accepting of the new coaches. They were ready to work on day one."
Spraker said one of her biggest challenges is rebuilding interest in the school's program.
"The one challenge we have faced is that over the years the program has decreased in numbers," she said. "As new coaches we are trying to increase interest in the program again. We eventually hope to reach out to the youth program to develop clinics and travel leagues."
Stephanie Luce takes over a Gloversville softball program that also has had four coaches in as many seasons.
"I think this change is a positive change for the program," the former College of Saint Rose player said. "I'm really focusing on rebuilding the program. I think I've provided a great deal of structure for the team. My players finally have the opportunity to work with a collegiate ball player and I think the girls have come to respect that. Being a young coach it makes it easier for them to relate to me. I've really focused on making sure they are aware of the potential that they truly have."
Luce used the winter season as the Gloversville girls basketball coach to get acquainted with the student-athletes in the district.
"Being a new teacher in the district, my JV basketball season was a way for me to understand the sports culture and atmosphere in Gloversville," she said. "It did get me out there and noticed by some of the players and parents. I tried to separate the two though, it was basketball season. I didn't want softball to interfere with that. Overall, practices have been very productive. We are really focusing on skill work. The girls are focused and working hard. The girls are very coachable and responding well to my coaching style."
Brittany Tomek takes over the Johnstown Lady Bills program after working with coach Ron Savoie last season. She also has varsity coaching experience at St. Johnsville.
"I am really excited to be able to coach at my alma mater," Tomek said. "I know it is going to be a very competitive league and I have learned a lot working with coaches [Dan] Hart and [Ron] Savoie, playing college ball and playing high school ball at Johnstown, so I pretty much know what we will be facing."
All the coaches are faced with one common problem - the extended winter weather.
"The weather is always an obstacle for spring sport athletics," Luce said. "Of course we would all love to be outside and working on realistic game situations, but it's just not possible at this point. We will be scrimmaging indoors and when the weather warms up we will be out on pavement. We are just staying positive by working in the cage and refining our fielding skills."
Tomek said "The practices are going pretty good. There are only so many drills we can do to get ready, but the girls are really enthusiastic and work well as a team. We really can't tell how they will perform in the field yet, but they are getting along good."
Hart said getting the right players in the right position is a challenge he faces at OESJ.
"All coaches face challenges each year but my biggest challenge is trying to find the right position for each girl," he said. "Without having them for summer softball, and the prolonged winter season, we have not been able to get outside and get a good look at which girl belongs in which position. The turnout this season has been great. We had 11 girls try out for varsity softball. We are comprised of one eighth grader, two freshman, three sophomores, and five juniors. We are young with not much experience, but the girls have been working hard and improving every day."