WESTFIELD — Summer is here. It’s time to get serious.
As their spring seasons came to a close, that was the thought running through the minds of New Palestine’s Issy Hoyt, Greenfield-Central’s Darcie Huber and every other Hancock County softball player hoping to extend their careers beyond high school.
Just like in basketball, travel athletics in the summer have replaced the school year as the time prep athletes need to shine brightest.
For some, high school seasons are now just for fun, a way to relieve stress before their rigorous and pressure-packed travel seasons begin. The truth of the matter is, Huber said, summer tournaments like this weekend’s 2015 Lids Showcase at Grand Park in Westfield are what draws the attention of college coaches and scouts.
“These tournaments are a lot more important (than high school) in terms of recruitment,” said Huber, who plays her travel softball with the Indiana Magic Gold 18U team along with Hoyt and New Palestine’s Casey Lehman. “It’s become that way with almost all girls sports now. All the recruiting comes from travel sports and travel coaches.”
It only makes sense, said her coach Scott Burkhardt, whose eldest daughter Ashley played at Purdue and whose youngest daughter Kristina plays on 18U team and is headed to the University of North Carolina in 2016.
College coaches have limited time and resources to spend on scouting players. It is not reasonable for them to travel to a high school game to see one, maybe two players they might potentially recruit.
It makes much more sense, he said, for them to come to a tournament like the Lids Showcase, so they can see all of the best talent competing against each other in one area at one time.
And it’s for that reason that players serious about competing in college find organizations like the Indiana Magic Gold.
“Our organization is geared to be an exposure, showcase organization,” said Burkhardt. “We are not looking to win or collect a lot of trophies. We are built to develop and display our players, put them up against great competition and select the tournaments where there are a high-degree of colleges coming to watch. That’s it.
“I have been coaching for five years now, and I have no idea what my record is. It doesn’t matter. But I can tell you about every girl we’ve help send to play at the next level because that’s what we’re here to do.”
That is what the majority of the 40-plus teams at the Lids Showcase are there to do in some degree or another, Burkhardt said. And the emergence of so many teams greatly increases the difficulty of players landing what few scholarships college make available.
The demand has become so high and the supply so low that it increases the pressure on every play, every pitch.
Hoyt said it is wonderful to play for a team and for coaches who are determined to get you to the next level, but the pressure it puts on you to perform is sometimes overwhelming.
“I’m way more nervous out here,” Hoyt said. “At New Palestine it’s relaxing, and it’s fun. You can laugh and have a good time. There’s just not as much pressure on you to succeed. But you come out here, and you know you have to do well to (secure your future).
“It’s so nerve-racking. It’s hard to perform your best when you know there are coaches and scouts behind the backstop watching you.”
Fortunately for Hoyt and Lehman, though, the pressure is somewhat off. Hoyt verbally committed to play at Purdue University in 2016 and is now waiting until she can officially sign her letter of intent. As for Lehman, she recently verbally committed to play at Huntington University.
Others aren’t as lucky as Hoyt and Lehman, though.
For Huber and many others, one game at the Lids Showcase could twist their fate one way or another. Every game is a potential launching pad or pitfall, and they know it.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way for Huber, though. At least not this summer.
Before the season began, Huber committed to Ball State University, but with the Cardinals’ coaches, who recruited her, headed to the University of Illinois, her future is back up in the air.
“She’s sort of a free agent again,” Huber’s mother Natalie said.
And with that, the pressure is back on.
“I’ve already had some people express some interest,” Huber said. “But yeah, it’s pretty nerve-racking.”
There are many softball players across Hancock County who have intentions of competing at the college level, and many of them play their travel softball for the Indiana Magic Gold. The Indiana Magic Gold is a travel club that has sent more than 90 girls on to play college ball since 2004. On this year’s 18U team, 12 of the 14 team members already have earned scholarship offers and have verbally committed to schools, including three from Hancock County. They are:
High school: Greenfield-Central (2016)
Verbally committed to: Ball State University#
Position: Pitcher, infielder
High school: New Palestine (2016)
Position: Third base
Verbally committed to: Purdue University
High school: New Palestine (2016)
Verbally committed to: Huntington University