By Tim Chambers
Trying to build a junior high softball team at Cloudland after a five-year absence can be compared to baking a cake from scratch. Presently they’ve got the flour, but head coach Rusty Chambers is going to have to sift through it in order to produce the perfect batter that could be icing on the cake that their high school program’s needs.
Chambers smiled when talking about the task at hand.
We’ve got 17 players but when you take most of those who have never played — you have to start at the beginning,” he said. “In time they’ll be good players and it’s going to be a whole lot better for the high school program. It’s easier for us to teach the game when your players have an idea at what you’re doing than to have never played. They’ve shown a lot of interest and we’ve seen a whole lot of improvement since we’ve started.”
Johanna Johnson and Cheyenne Strickland will alternate on the mound for the Highlanders. Strickland will mostly handle the catching duties unless called upon in a relief role.
“Cheyenne handles the catching role better than anyone we have so she’ll have to play there,” stated Chambers. “They’ve been working good together so we’re pleased with that.”
Jennifer Gibbs will play first base while Emily Benfield will see some time at second.
Chambers said his best infielder, Mallory Church, is out with a leg injury and won’t be back for two weeks. He’ll rely on Mattea Jennings, who Chambers said is the team’s best hitter at the present will play third.
Peyton Johnson, Patricia Singleton and Brianna Kings will shore up the outfield. Oliva Gibbs is another player who will DH and play as well in the field.
High school head coach Kenneth Chambers will be helping his assistant coach in that role, as will Lauren Jaynes. Rusty and Kenneth agree that it’s a joint effort to try and build the school a successful program.
Unaka, Hampton, North Greene and University High all have good feeder programs,” Kenneth said. “These kids want to play. They brought a list before the season started of 20 names asking for us to form a team. Our high school got new uniforms, so we gave them our old jerseys — which was in good shape — and bought them some shorts. We don’t have much money to work with, but we’ve got it up and going.”
Both coaches are pleased with the work ethic shown by the players.
“They’ll come down here during high school practice and work on their own,” said Rusty. “When we finish with the high school team, then we turn around and practice them.”
Added Kenneth. “The high school players have been very helpful staying and working with the kids, and so has Nick McKinney when he can. It’s hard for us coaches to work with 40 players during the day, but it’s also rewarding. They appreciate it. They’re great kids who want to be good softball players.”
Rusty said the community has done a good job of getting behind both programs.
“We’ve had a good turnout for the few home games that we’ve played,” he said. “The weather had been wonderful for this time of year, especially for up here.”
For right now, the Chamberses have their hands full — but Rome was built in a day.
Neither was Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines. It took a while for them to perfect the cake.