Students at James Hart Junior High will be taking swings at the baseball as the school’s first organized baseball and softball teams start their season this month.
The school board agreed to start organized teams after surveys found great interest in the competitive sports. The Hart teams will face other regional teams in the Illinois Elementary Education Association league, including schools in Chicago Heights, Lansing, Steger, Flossmoor and communities farther south.
The girls softball team will play its first game Aug. 13 and boys baseball team’s first game is Aug. 17.
The girls softball team has been selected and will be coached by 7th grade math teacher Carole Smith and 8th grade social studies teacher Ginny Donahue. Both have coached team sports for Catholic League teams at St. Joseph Parish. The boys baseball team, to be selected this week, is coached by physical education teachers Grant Sikkema and Matt Somodi. They have coached high school baseball teams.
Coaches say the 7th and 8th grade players bring lots of experience to the teams because of their years in Homewood’s Babe Ruth leagues. Homewood has promoted baseball since 1951, and at Hart tryouts the players came in their team uniforms.
Sikkema said playing at the end of the regular summer season means the players are “fresh, well conditioned and fine tuned already.” After watching boys at tryouts, Somodi said there’s plenty of talent and it will be tough making cuts.
Only half of the boys trying out will make the 17-player roster, but he tries to encourage all the players to continue playing baseball “because you get better by doing as many reps (repetitions)” that help build skills.
Selecting teams when you have that much talent can be difficult, but Smith said a Homewood-Flossmoor High School varsity softball coach came out to watch tryouts and helped explain how to select players for the 16-member softball team. Although the girls all have experience, they won’t necessarily be playing at the same position they did for their league teams, Smith added.
The District 153 school year doesn’t start until Aug. 27. The softball team will already have played half of its games by then, including six games in two weeks. When so many games are played in short order, the season doesn’t go too long into the school year. The softball regional game will be Sept. 9, and the elimination tournament follows after that.
Smith invites James Hart Panthers supporters to be at the 7:30 p.m. game on Aug. 27 when the softball team takes on the Flossmoor team at Izaak Walton.