GLEN ALLEN, Va. (WRIC) — After a disappointing end to their season last year, a group of the best young softball players in Glen Allen are on a mission to make it to Florida to prove themselves against talent from across the country.
Part of the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association, the Glen Allen All-Stars 16U softball team won the Babe Ruth League Virginia State Tournament in 2021. When they were invited to the Babe Ruth World Series in Florida, they weren’t able to raise the funds necessary for the trip and had to decline.
“It was the worst emotional roller coaster I’d ever been on in my life because I got to stand there and tell those girls, ‘Hey, all that hard work paid off, we’re the state champions, were going to Florida!'” said head coach Willy Hamp. “And then a week later to have to tell them, ‘Hey listen, things just didn’t work out, we’re not going,’ that was really really hard for me.”
Hamp, who started coaching the team in 2021, says the team is an opportunity for girls from the area who aren’t able to play travel ball to gain valuable experience and play in a competitive setting. It quickly became much more than that, however.
“I’ll admit, when it started, I was just happy to be there, you know, just happy to do it. But as we progressed and got so good … I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hamp. “I didn’t know what to expect going into the [state] tournament, I didn’t know what the other teams were bringing. We went out and we played really really good softball and we won. And unfortunately, because of COVID, because of the way things were last year, we just had no time at all to raise the money.”
The costs of travel, as well as food and boarding for the nearly two-week outing proved to be too much for the team in just ten days, and they had to decline the invitation to the World Series. Courtney Pace, Hamp’s wife, said one of the girls texted her saying she would eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in order to offset the costs of the trip.
“Not only for the girls, but for everybody, it was disappointing,” Said Jennie Davis, Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association’s Director of Softball. “That’s a hard hit.”
Fortunately, the team’s invitation has been extended to this year, meaning however they do in this year’s state tournament, they are guaranteed a spot as long as they can make it to Florida. This year, they’re determined to make it and avoid the heartbreak their last season ended with.
“We cannot tell these girls two years in a row, we have to figure this out somehow,” said team mom Wendy Davis.
“We’re just not really taking no for an answer this time,” said Pace. “We’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that we give these girls the opportunity to play their hearts out because they’ve earned it.”
“I would literally do anything to not have to tell these girls that were missing out on another Florida trip, I just can’t do it,” said Pace.
The team is hosting a fundraising event at the Mod Pizza at 5466 Wyndham Forest Drive in Glen Allen on Saturday, June 11. More information about the event can be found on the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association Facebook Page.
For Hamp, making it to Florida this year is about more than just playing softball.
“I’m so proud to be part of that organization, and to be able to go down there with Glen Allen on our chests and represent such a great organization that cares so much about these kids, it really is about the kids,” said Hamp. “These are girls that just absolutely love the game and they play the game for the game, and they play for the girl standing next to them. And its an opportunity for them to go and showcase not only their skill but their personalities and the human beings that they’ve grown to be.”
Hamp says the team has gotten even better since winning the state tournament in 2021, and although they come from a recreation league, they practice with the same intensity as any other team. Practice is two hours a day from Monday to Friday, and the team sometimes puts in extra work at the batting cages on weekends.
Hamp and Jennie say the team is feeling confident going into the summer tournament trail after such a great performance last year.
“They’re more cohesive, they’re working harder than ever. You can see in their practices how much further they’ve come, how dedicated they are, how excited they are,” said Jennie
“If you practice anything two hours a night, you’re gonna get good. But, I think more than anything, they wanted it and they believed in themselves,” said Hamp.