A storm is growing in Howard County as the city’s second 12U softball team makes headway in its second year.
Last year, the Thunder won four games during a shortened season. This year, the same 12U Thunder softball team has been to four championship games in six tournaments, with one more to go in the fall. Head Coach JR Rogers said although the team still has a way to go, the 14-14 Thunder continues to take big steps in the right direction.
“Well, last season we were a startup new team, and we struggled to get nine players. We had 11 players that were committed to the team. Then the day before practice five kids dropped out,” Rogers said. “Me and my assistant coach had to scour the earth to try and get to nine players.”
Rogers said last season Howard County had enough players for two 12U teams, or so they thought. So, they created the new 12U squad. The original 12U team has been together since they were 10U, but he said he was excited for a new team and a new season, which usually runs from September to the end of July.
As a new, thinly-spread team, the fall was rough. There wasn’t enough time to practice much before the fall tournaments, he said, and winter practices started to yield progress. But when warm weather arrived in March, so did the pandemic. Everything was cut short.
“Certainly appreciate the kids that came out and played, but it’s hard to be a first-year team, and then you have a three-month window where you can’t do anything,” Rogers said.
In other words, this year Rogers expects double the games played last year, which he said was only about 40.
Rogers’ daughter, Madelyn, was one of just five returning players from last season, with seven new players joining this year. Rogers said the team turned a corner at the end of last season, winning three of its four wins in the last full tournament they played. That momentum has carried over as this year’s Thunder is winning at a steady pace.
While Rogers said many coaches get involved in youth sports because their kids play, he said he does it for the joys of coaching and teaching – though being around his daughter is a perk as well.
“Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I love watching my daughter play and helping and being her coach and everything, but I just love coaching all the kids, to watch all the kids work hard together to try and get better. Me and my coaching staff push them hard in practice to get better,” he said.
A Thunder practice does not look fun, he said, stressing fundamentals, teamwork, and playing the right way are the main focuses. Repetition and discipline translate to game situations. It’s all a constant effort to improve.
“Our goal is just to go out to as many tournaments as we can, play as hard we can, to compete and win as many games as we can. It’s a big goal to put up there and say we want to win the national tournament. Of course we’re going to try, but we want to go there and put up the most respectable showing we can,” Rogers said. “My philosophy and our coaches’ philosophy on softball is that softball is a hard game, man. You never really get to the point where you master the game. You’re always just constantly trying to look at ways you can get better.”
The Thunder are ahead of the curve with 10 more wins than all last season, and the results show the coach’s philosophy is working.