Just how important is a good recreation program to a high school coach? Just ask North Carroll's Rich Harvey, who continues to reap the benefits from what county coaches agree is the strongest overall rec softball program in the area.
"We have a fantastic feeder program," said Harvey. "They feed into our JV program. Our whole program is successful because each year there's talent coming into the JV. Then we can leave kids at that level for a couple years."
Harvey is in the minority, however, with most coaches struggling to fill their rosters with quality players in areas filled with slow-pitch leagues and programs they say fail to teach the basics.
In some parts of the county, such as Westminster, slow-pitch is still king.
"It's a big draw for kids," said Owls coach Lisa Harford. "To play fast pitch, they have to go to North Carroll, Damascus, Finksburg or Winfield. Living in Westminster, they're going to mostly stay where it's close."
Harford said about 90 percent of her players play slow pitch -- a fact that makes her life as a coach more difficult.
"Hitting is a major part of fast pitch," said Harford, who says it takes her players several weeks to adjust their timing. "It's not just that, but base running is so much different, and there's the whole bunting aspect. It's like comparing apples and oranges. I think slow-pitch is an excellent game, but it's excellent after you graduate."
Attempts have been made to start a fast-pitch rec program in Westminster. Going up against the mega-popular slow-pitch program run by the Westminster Jaycees, however, the faster version never stood a chance.
Harford, herself, spent several seasons playing the slower game and said it was some of the most fun she's had in the sport.
"The program is so strong here, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, because people really like it," she said. "Unfortunately, though, it is so strong that a fast-pitch team is really going to have a lot of trouble trying to get started here.
She said the only way her players can continue to improve at fast-pitch over the summer is if their parents are willing to drive them to other areas, such North Carroll, Winfield or Damascus.
A newcomer to Harford's team this season will be Nichol Moehler, a right-handed freshman who can throw five or six pitches and seems to have limitless potential. To learn her craft, however, she had to travel to Winfield.
Liberty coach Nora Murray said her problem isn't necessarily the lack of fast-pitch leagues. It's their quality.
"There's been an increase in the number of leagues around here, but the quality of players some of them are producing is not yet good enough to compete [at this level]," said Murray. "They shouldn't just be learning the fundamentals but also improving in what they're doing.
"By the time they get to high school, we're still trying to teach kids how to pitch, and that can't happen."
North Carroll, which finished first in the county last season and is again a favorite, draws more talent each year from its local rec league than some area coaches could dream of. As an example, Harvey said the Panthers' top JV pitcher this season could probably start and be successful for most other area varsity teams. In terms of North Carroll's varsity, however, she would be fourth on the depth chart.
Similarly, the growth of a fast-pitch program in New Windsor is paying off for Francis Scott Key.
"Especially with some of the ninth graders coming in on the B squad, you can see the experience is paying off," said Key coach Joe Linthicum. "We're not quite at the level of some other places, but it's very encouraging. We're definitely making steps in the right direction."
For starters, Linthicum will have two quality pitchers in junior Misti Myers and sophomores Meredith Carter.
"That's a luxury we haven't had for a while," he said.
South Carroll coach Debbie Eaton credits the growth of rec ball in her part of the county with her program's recent success. While fielding quality players used to be a struggle for some teams, Eaton was thrilled when 40 -- most with recreation experience -- tried out for her squad.
"It used to be that kids played slow-pitch over the summer and had to come in and readjust to fast-pitch," said Eaton. "Now, they come in, and there's zero adjustment."
As rec programs continue to spring up around the county, the ability level of area high school teams will continue to improve. For the time being, however, those without adequate programs wage an up-hill battle to field competitive teams.
Said one coach, it's almost a case of the haves vs. the have nots.
Pub Date: 3/18/99