The Minden Recreation Center was flooded with cars and school busses on Saturday as the bulk of the second-annual Minden Softball Tournament took place.
It was the first days of spring and the perfect time for the area’s best softball talent to square off in a mid-season battle.
“The tournament went very well,” Minden head coach Bonnie Hunter said. “Beautiful weather, good fan turnout and good competition.”
The Lady Tiders were able to land a punch early on Friday by beating Summerfield 19-9 in a slugfest.
“Our team chemistry is beginning to work as it should,” Hunter said. “We are learning to be unselfish as a team, work together, cheer together and pump each other up.”
When I first began attending Lady Tiders’ games early in the season, it was clear that Hunter had her work cut out for her. Great softball teams at the high-school level seem to all have one thing in common: organized, choreographed, loud chanting.
Minden had yet to capture that. The essence of chemistry on the softball diamond. The more I watched them play, the more their excitement grew and they began to gel as a team.
“Minden is gaining recognition as being a competitive threat on the field,” Hunter said. “We also show sportsmanship on and off the field.”
That’s what sticks out to me about Hunter’s team: class.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Tiders. That was expected. The encouragement from Hunter and assistant coaches Tim Hunter and Kelly Yancey is non-stopped. In Saturday’s game against Friendship, Minden was down just one run early in the game. A Friendship batter connected with an inside fastball and it soared over the fence. Some of the Tiders began to hang their heads. Hunter and her staff didn’t bat an eye. They shouted words of encouragement to the pitcher and the entire team as the other player rounded the bases.
“The girls are learning to win and lose in the spirit of sports competition,” Hunter said. “They are learning the ins and outs of power rankings, run-rule sportsmanship and the need to be unselfish in team endeavors.”
There probably aren’t many better coaches to learn under than Hunter. She is a founding member of the Louisiana Softball Coaches Association. Hunter was inducted into the LSCA Hall of Fame in 2003 and has led a number of Louisiana high schools deep into the state playoffs.
What’s more is that the girls connect with Hunter. As I walk up near the dugout to get a good angle for some photos, I hear one of the players address Hunter as “B.H.” in a funny tone.
“We’ve got a good one in Coach Hunter,” Minden athletic director Dean Francis said. “She is an excellent coach and has the experience to lead our team.”
Tournaments like this create the atmosphere the Hunter, Francis and everyone at Minden High School want to build. Lakeside coach Gary Cooper is chatting with Minden principal Becky Wilson while the Tiders play. There’s plenty of good food and snacks and the youngsters are all huddled behind the outfield fence pretending to be high school players. It’s time to be outside. This tournament was a success in that it went smoothly on the field and there were no major technical issues, but more than that, it was successful because it was a place to bring your family and friends and watch some of the best area athletes.
It’s not about moral victories for the Lady Tiders, though. Yes, the tournament was great, but Minden still went 1-2 and that’s not good enough for a team with this much talent.
Shania Freelon, Zamiya Manning and Reagan Lee are truly special talents. Those three combined to go 6-for-10 in the win over Summerfield. In order to keep improving, Hunter knows that it’s going to take more than raw talent.
“Team leaders have evolved from freshmen to seniors and it shows,” Hunter said. “Opposing coaches in and out of district have praised the difference in the team culture and competitive level of our team.”
Players, coaches and family all pitched in to make the tournament operational. Driving into the park I was met by two of the softball players who were handling the gate and admittance. They were in uniform, had a game in less than thirty minutes, and still managed to pitch in to make the tournament work (with a smile on their face that indicated they’d rather be doing nothing else).
“Lady Tiders you did a great job with cleanup, scoreboard, concessions ,helping parents with the gate, field maintenance and assisting the coaches,” Hunter said in a statement on Facebook. “You softball ladies displayed your talents well on the field, showed how you could adapt to the needs of the team as you were switched to different positions, and displayed wonderful sportsmanship and respect. You never know who is going to be sick, AWOL or not having a good day. You never know who is watching and could possibly be a stepping stone to your future. Stay positive. Keep smiling. Keep growing on the field and off.
“Tournament teams: Lakeside, Captain Shreve, Haynesville, Summerfield, Castor and Friendship, thank you for participating and making these two days so enjoyable. Your supportive parents, grandparents and students were showed true sportsmanship.
“To Mike Hall: a big thank you for assigning officials and making us work harder teaching this game and the ever changing rules to our athletes and fans.
“To the guys in blue: thank you for your timeliness in getting games started on time, your hustle on the field, knowledge of the rules and game and working with our athletes in a positive manner.
“All of the above took teamwork. Sometimes with a grimace or shake of the head, deep sigh, but always by communicating, making adjustments and shooting for the positive end result.”