The Belton High School Softball program has enjoyed plenty of accolades over the years.
The 2018 season marks the 25th anniversary of the Belton Softball program.
The inaugural team in 1993 broke the barriers for girls looking to play high school softball. Many of the players from that team played select softball and were quite seasoned when the team was started.
There were several great female athletes in the 1980’s who played softball. Sheila Symm and Dorothy Payne, graduates in 1987, both played for Baylor before the program was stopped
Former Lady Tiger athlete Michelle Mayfield, who was one of Belton’s great multi-sport athletes in the 1980’s, played softball at Texas A&M from 1988-1992 and was the head coach at UMHB from 1994-1997.
“There were several of us who played together starting at five and six years of age all the way through high school,” Mayfield said. “So we would have been extremely competitive if we would have had a program.”
In 1993, Mayfield had the opportunity to go before the Belton ISD School Board to present the idea having the district add softball as one of the girl’s sports.
“I only had my perspective and experiences to go by, so that’s the mindset I had going in, with the hope that those experiences along with my words would help the board members to come to the decision to provide the opportunities to the girls coming up that I never had,” Mayfield said. “I had just completed my playing career at Texas A&M – I started there as a walk-on, the only player designated as so because all of the other girls had been recruited from their high school programs. Select ball wasn’t as big in Texas back then as it was now, so the college coaches recruited primarily from the high school programs. Since we had no high school program, or select team anywhere close I grew up playing in the Belton and Temple Youth leagues, as well as women’s slow pitch in the Temple Recreation League. It was an eye-opening experience when I got to A&M going up against players who had practiced every day in their high schools, whose coaches trained and honed those skills daily, and whose programs were being watched and followed by college coaches. I just knew that a high school program in Belton would be extremely successful and was hoping to persuade the board of the opportunities that could be given and the dreams that could be made a reality by fielding a high school program.”
“The best part was how we went to school board one night along with Michelle Mayfield, who played at Texas A&M, stood up in front of the board and voiced why we needed a softball team,” Tracy (Baird) LeBlanc said. “After voicing our opinion I felt like the board wasn’t on our side until Ms. Kirkland finally said ‘Wait, we are missing a sport for girls.’ She named all the boy’s sports but girls were a sport short. I felt she was really a big plus for us. Just to prove how serious we were about getting a team a few of us went out for the boy’s baseball team. I felt bad for Coach Tidwell at that time. Something we will never forget.”
The board and the athletic department added Belton Lady Tigers Softball. Texas University Interscholastic League recognized softball as an official sport that year and Belton played varsity softball starting in 1993.
Belton Softball’s 1993 team was coached by Kam Jordan. The players were Tracy Baird (LeBlanc), Tammy Drake (Stuart), Chrisha Emerson (Potter), Beth Keener, Dana Koonsen (Cockerham), Stacy Lange (Canfield), Charlotte Martin (Landry), Jennifer McCarty, Chris Normand (Treat), Carissa Rodrigues (Chandler), Nina Rodriguez, Heather Sleeth (Ferman) and April True (Rodriguez).
The team was full of heart and great passion for the game, as well as for each other.
“The girls were so good at softball they just needed a warm body to stand there,” Jordan said. “They were and are just a fantastic group of women.”
Most of the players were multi-sport athletes already. Much like athletes of today, playing multiple sports were encouraged. Adding softball was a natural fit for that group of players.
“To be honest, I think most of them played multiple sports but they had been playing softball since they were little and really loved the game,” Jordan said. “When the school decided to add softball, they were so excited to have the opportunity to play a game they excelled in and show people what they could do. They all had supportive parents too. They just jelled as a team plus they were all good athletes.”
The team chemistry made things easy, as the players grew up together.
“We all had grown up playing together since T-ball,” Martin said. “Our dads coached us all. By the time we got softball in high school, we knew what positions we were and how each other played, so there was no need to gel and learn how to play with each other. We already knew how to read one another.
With every great story, there were humble beginnings. The practice field was the start of it all.
“The best part of starting it was we were a family and we had to make the field ourselves so every day we would go to the sight and have to pick up rocks before we could even start to practice,” True said.
“Yes! Picking up rocks!” Emerson said. “And I remember being intimidated that Coach was going to run our pants off and no one would make the team. The rumor was to get to play we had to run like three miles in 15 minutes (or something extreme like that).
The facilities were a bit tough, running cords from the tool shed to the field just to run a pitching machine.”
“I still can’t believe we had to use four extension cords, from another building to power our pitching machine,” Jordan said. “The pitching machine was borrowed from one of the dads I think.”
Loop 121 wasn’t always a paved road. In fact, in 1993, it was still a dirt road. It is one that the team remembers painfully well.
“Yes, we did have to run that. Down the Loop,” Martin said. “But then it was still a dirt road. And I remember throwing up cause we ran so much.”
“Mostly, I remember the memories,” Lange said. “The bonds that were made. The teamwork. The way it was a sisterhood in a sense. To be honest, it was the best part of high school. Coach Jordan was remarkable and pushed us because she wanted us to be our best. This was my first experience of, ‘Only the strong survive.’”
There are always funny stories in team sports. The 1993 team was no different. The hard-throwing Martin and Baird were practice tossing when Jordan was in the line of friendly fire.
“Charlotte did throw hard, but Tracy is the one who hit me in the upper leg during warm up,” Jordan recalled. “She and Charlotte warmed up together and Charlotte missed the ball. That was the hardest I have ever been hit with an object. It took me to my knees. I will be on my death bed and remember that ball. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Just wrong place wrong time, but whoever played first base, they were a brave person.”
The team was competitive, finishing in a first-place tie for the District 24-5A championship with Temple. Baird was District 24-5A Most Valuable Player. Martin, Sleeth, and Drake were First Team All-District. Koonsen and Normand were Second Team All-District.
Drake earned the Coaches Award. Baird earned the Big Stick award. Koonsen earned the Outfield Golden Glove and Baird earned the Infield Golden Glove. Martin was the team’s Golden Arm award winner.
One of the big differences in softball in the 1990’s and today is the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate. It was moved from 40 feet back to 43 feet.
“We would have had an advantage,” Emerson said. “Charlotte threw the ball hard and we had good defense. She was almost unhittable. Made our defense less engaged most games. Had more balls been put in play, we would have still gotten the outs. And we would have been better prepared to face a team that could put Martin’s pitching into play. Offensively we could hit top to bottom. We would have hit Midway better. And we would have been more ready to get them out. At least that’s my opinion. Given that I now coach and/or watch softball high school girls today and try to compare it to back then.”
“Mere inches…ha!” Martin joked. “My brother played baseball so, at home, I would practice pitching from his distance sometimes. Not sure what that distance was, I just know the baseball mound was further away than the softball one. I don’t imagine the rubber being at 43 would have affected much.”
The program has made the playoffs for 22 of the 24 years of existence (the only years missed were 1994 and 1996), including 21 straight seasons since 1997. The program has one of the longest streaks going in BHS Athletics.
“I am extremely proud of the success of the BHS program, but not surprised,” Mayfield said. “Belton is home to so many talented athletes, in all sports, and it’s also a community that has always been very supportive of its baseball and softball youth programs. All those girls needed was the opportunity to hone and nurture that talent and I’m so proud that I had the opportunity to contribute in some small way to the beginning and ultimate success of the program.”
“I, for one, am grateful that a group spoke out to push for the softball program,” Belton head coach Matt Blackburn said, now in his 11th year. “It has given hundreds of girls in this community an opportunity to showcase their talents. I take a lot of pride in this program, and see it as an honor and duty to uphold the winning tradition. Many life lessons are taught within sport that cannot be achieved with education alone. I tell each group, year by year, that they take the field for anyone that has ever worn Belton across their chest and anyone who ever will. Hopefully, we as coaches and players are making former players proud and inspiring the young to achieve their dreams.”