Instructor Ashley Burch assists Payton Lizee

Instructor Ashley Burch assists Payton Lizee

Learn to Play program loads the bases

Learn to Play program offers softball fundamentals for North Okanagan youngsters.

Ashley Burch rolls a rubber ball towards home plate. Kids taken turns kicking and then running around the bases. They smile the whole time and then throw tennis balls against the backstop at Grahame Park.

A few minutes later, the youngsters grab a tennis racket and feel their way around swinging at a ball.

It’s all part of the Under 10 (Learn to Play) program for kids showing an interest in softball.

Ann Holmes, a longtime area softball co-ordinator, runs the program with Burch and Gary Ortman as main instructors. Parents also help to provide a strong coach-to-athlete ratio.

Most of the kids at the free Thursday 5:30-6:30 p.m. sessions are under six. Two-year-old southpaw Rawley Ortman is already throwing a decent ball to his dad.

“Traditionally, at the five-10-year-old level, coaches are moms and dads with little or no coaching experience,” said Holmes. “The Learn to Play Program is designed to be easily implemented by a volunteer coach. The manuals contain lesson plans with progressions for teaching basic skills, and lead-up games.”

Holmes says the program is designed to address the common characteristics of children while introducing softball in a revolutionary way.

“It ensures children have fun while improving their fitness level and developing their skills,” said Holmes.

“We will be participating in a variety of activities and lead-up games that will give childen more opportunities to touch the ball and develop the necessary basic skills to enjoy the game. The activities are fun and short in duration and will prepare children for more advanced competition later in life.”

The lead up games are patterned after informal playground games. The learn to play is nationally recognized and approved.

A special clinic will run Thursday, June 3 with former Kansas Wesleyan University Coyotes’ starting catcher Michelle Webster as guest coach. Holmes’ daughter, Becky, was one of Webster’s minor softball coaches.

Webster played two years for the Coyotes before graduating in 2009. She took All-Conference (NAIA) honours both years with the Coyotes, winning the conference in her sophomore season. She then spent two years as an assistant coach and one as the interim head coach at Kansas Wesleyan.

The 2002 Fulton grad is back in Vernon and working as a program manager for the Splatsin Youth Centre in Enderby.

“I spent much of my time as a coach recruiting, and as such, have a good working knowledge of the recruiting process,” said Webster. “I also recognize that although we have talented softball players here in B.C., not everyone is aware of how to go about seeking collegiate experience.”

Webster also served as a bullpen catcher/manager with Team Canada under head coach Lori Sippel from 2005-08.

“I also did the District 9 head coaching job a few years back, 2006, which I loved. It was a great opportunity to work with coaches on how to make practices efficient and fun. Getting players to stay involved and participate is the ultimate goal. Our sport only lives as long as there are people to play.

“My love for the game all started for me here in Vernon and now I am home. My schedule would not allow for me to take on a full-time coaching responsibility. However, softball is in my blood and I would love to find my way back to the field.”