By Claire Stuart
There’s been a changing of the guard for the girls’ softball teams at Clarke County High School. Darren “Fly” Lambert has moved into the top spot as varsity head coach after six years as JV head coach, replacing Susan Grubbs, who retired after 31 years. Lambert coached Eagles JV baseball before coaching JV softball and sees no major differences between coaching boys and coaching girls. Asked whether he expects coaching varsity to differ much from JV, he replied, “Being that this is my first year at the varsity level, I’m expecting it to be different. However, when I coached at the JV level, some would say that it’s just JV, but I never took that stance or that philosophy. Although it was JV, I took it very seriously. Of course, there is more at stake at the varsity level, since wins and losses count more. Ultimately we are playing for a state championship. At the JV level, you can’t do that.”
He went on to explain that Clarke County is part of the Bull Run District, which recently initiated a program where the top two JV teams play for the district championship. “I think that was implemented last year. We were not involved in that championship, unfortunately. But in the years I coached at the JV level, I would say that almost every year we were pretty successful. The varsity has always had success, but last year was a down year. They had just 6 wins. We’ll be hoping to improve on last year’s season.”
Lambert doesn’t anticipate making any major changes in the varsity program. “The previous head coach was here over 30 years, and I coached JV under the old coach. I will probably implement the same things, but I’ll bring my own style of coaching to the varsity level. A little different, but not much. I try to instill a fun atmosphere and at the same time provide the fundamentals of softball skills—it’s very
important. I’ve always used the phrase ‘I’m not a coach, I’m a teacher’ and I am still teaching the fundamentals.” Many of the varsity girls have been playing “since T-ball.” They play fast-pitch, and Lambert says that some strong pitchers can pitch up to 65 miles per hour. “Coming from 43 feet, that’s pretty fast!” Unlike high-profile sports like football and basketball, a high school softball career isn’t likely to lead to possible fame and fortune. However, Lambert’s team is enthusiastic, and they play for love of the game. Lambert notes that there are scholarships available. “Any time you play high school sports, there’s always the possibility of going forward at the college level. But it’s a big commitment.” He indicated sophomore Kacie Turner. “I know Kacie has that ambition, to move forward to play in college.” Turner, who pitches and plays outfield and shortstop, affirmed that she hopes for a scholarship. “I intend to play in college.”
On the other hand, junior Alissa Hoggatt says she doesn’t intend to play college softball. Senior Kiley Ramey concurs, saying, “It’s mainly for fun at this point for me.” There is some division around the state about a requirement for players to wear face masks. “It is not a requirement by the Virginia High School League (VHSL),” says Lambert, “but a lot of our infielders do wear face masks. I look for the VHSL making it a mandatory rule very soon, at least for pitchers. I don’t know if they would do it for infielders or not. But really, I believe pitchers should wear face masks.” Hoggatt, who plays outfield and first base, says “I wear a face mask in the field.” Turner says she only wears a face mask when she is pitching.Ramey, catcher and shortstop, says “I choose not to wear a face mask.”
The varsity team plays their first game on March 18 against James Wood at home. Clarke County plays all of their district opponents two times, home and away. Lambert reports that the Bull Run District was just realigned and Madison and Page Counties are now included. “They will be two of our bigger rivals in our district. I would anticipate that those teams are probably two of the best teams in the state of Virginia. Madison was in our district before; Page wasn’t. Seems like at least the last four years we played Page County in the first round of our regionals, so they are our nemesis, to say the least! And now we get to play them twice in our district.”
Rachel Thompson replaces Lambert as JV coach. She works in the Special Education Department at Cooley Elementary while taking on-line classes in criminal psychology in preparation for a law enforcement career. “It’s great to return to where I graduated and played softball and get a coaching job,” she says.
If you have a business you’d like to publicize, you can help the teams and get an advertising banner. Says Lambert, “It’s a fund-raiser for the softball program. Four-by-eight-foot banners will be displayed on the playing field. The price is $200, including production of the banner that will be displayed at 20 games — ten home varsity and ten JV — a pretty good deal!” It looks like an exciting start for the season and Coach Lambert.