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Former local players come back to help instruct at Pitcher's Mound camp

Staff Photo: John Bohn Kara Taylor, 10, a minor league player, works on her hitting during a softball camp held at North Gwinnett High School Tuesday. The camp is hosted by former Gwinnett softball players now playing in college.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Kara Taylor, 10, a minor league player, works on her hitting during a softball camp held at North Gwinnett High School Tuesday. The camp is hosted by former Gwinnett softball players now playing in college.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Instructor Allie Miles, formerly a softball player with Dacula, left, gives hitting tips to Quinn Hova, a major level catcher during a softball camp at North Gwinnett High School Tuesday. The camp is hosted by former Gwinnett softball players who now play in college.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Jamie Kozozemski, 14, a travel league softball player, works on hitting during a softball camp at North Gwinnett High School Tuesday. The camp is hosted by former Gwinnett softball players now playing in college.

SUWANEE -- North Gwinnett's softball team practiced on its field in the building heat Tuesday morning.

Which is nothing new.

But off to the side in the batting cage, and later on that same field, girls years younger were also working on their game.

Girls in Buford green and Peachtree Ridge blue. But also girls in tie-dyed and panda T-shirts.

The latest camp offered by The Pitcher's Mound, begun nearly 20 years ago in Gwinnett, was originally going to be held at the training program's facility in Duluth. But enrollment for the two-day Fastpitch 102 camp was high enough they felt it was better to move to North Gwinnett.

"This worked out better and we had too many to fit in our facility," said Christie Thompson, one of their full-time instructors and a former standout at North. "This is better because they get game experience (on the field)."

The Fastpitch 102 camp is for general instruction -- but not generic.

"We're trying to make it a general, two-day camp every year that is the same camp," said Thompson, who played four seasons at Columbus State before joining The Pitcher's Mound staff two years ago. "So we don't change it constantly and we want it to be position specific. We have college students teaching pitching, catching, infield and outfield."

A number of Gwinnett County players returned to help lead the camp.

Former stars like Brittany Broome (North/Ole Miss), Morgan Bullock (Mill Creek/Florida State), Heidi Shape (Norcross/Mississippi State), Sam Lenahan (Collins Hill/Mississippi State) and Allie Miles (Dacula/Georgia Southern) came back to work with the girls who range in age from 8 to 14.

"We try to pick the girls who are actually our students to come back and teach the same things we've taught them," Thompson said. "And now they're big names. The younger girls love it."

Broome, who started training with The Pitcher's Mound when she was 8, was more than happy to help.

"The relationship I have with The Pitcher's Mound is like no other," Broome said. "I stay in contact with Lacey (Ingram), who was my pitching coach throughout high school. She's like my big sister. It's more than just softball. It's personal. The Pitcher's Mound develops personal relationships and they care. It's something I really have cherished throughout the years.

"If they ever ask (for camp instructors), I'll be the first one to volunteer. I'm always very glad when they ask. They did so much for me."

Though it will be several more years before these campers are faced with the tough decision of where to go to college, being able to talk to players who went through it themselves fairly recently is a big benefit of the camp.

"The best thing about this particular camp is bringing out our 'old' talent, our college girls," Thompson said. "It's just great to bring it back and it give the younger girls the feeling that, oh, we can do this.

"That's the biggest difference because what we do with the 101 camp is the college coaches come in and teach that. So that's where this one is different. The younger girls relate more to the college girls coming back, girls who have been to all the camps and done all of this with us, too."

Another part of the camp is called the Athena Leadership Academy, which is led by former Illinois starting outfielder Hope Howell. The 24 girls at this year's camp began Tuesday morning with a session focusing on confidence building and the mental aspect of the game.

After that, they moved on to hitting while North Gwinnett's team practiced on the field. The afternoon was reserved for coaching specific positions.

The girls at this year's camp, which run through today, had a wealth of talented players to learn from -- players who as recently as last year were making headlines as standout high schoolers.

"Usually we try to get an instructor per 10 girls, but we have way more instructors than that here," Thompson said. "They're lucky this year. It's really good for the younger girls."