Successful summer for Ohio Fury travel softball

By: 
Seth Kinker
Sports Editor

Summer softball was touch and go at the beginning of June, with the novel coronavirus shutting down professional, collegiate, and high school athletics while leaving summer sport leagues in question as well. 

Luckily for the Ohio Fury, a travel softball program out of Minster, most of their teams have been able to play full schedules this summer with resounding success as they’ve accumulated nine tournament wins. 

Prior to the governor announcing non-contact sports would be permissible, some tournaments in Ohio had already canceled their events. 

“But most (tournaments) stayed open and we registered for those way back in December,” said program director Robb Hemmelgarn, who also coaches a 16U team for the Fury in addition to being the head coach of the Minster high school softball team. “Nothing really changed with that, we just had to wait for the green light to say these tournaments could go on.”

“I didn’t think we were going to get a spring season at all,” said Savanah Bergman, a junior catcher to be at Minster who has played for the Fury since the sixth grade. “But I’m grateful we got to play this summer. It was a rollercoaster. We thought we would get canceled if we were classified as a contact sport but we didn’t. I’m just thankful to play this summer.” 

Hemmelgarn has been running the Fury, which has been around since 2003, since 2017 after taking over for former Minster softball coach Scott Robinson, who ran the program before Hemmelgarn and brought the Fury from Newton to Minster when he came to the area. 

Tryouts are held every August with teams practicing through the winter and starting up their season in late May or early June depending on their age group. 

Over the years, the Fury has grown in their reach and the number of teams that are offered.  

“When I first started (with the Fury) my daughter Laney was eligible for 10U but they didn’t have enough 10U or 12U girls so they combined to make a 12U team,” said Hemmelgarn. “At the time I think there was only a 12U team and 16U team.” 

“I think word of mouth and success in tournaments the past 3-4 years,” answered Hemmelgarn when asked about why the Fury program has grown. “We’ve gotten more and more successful, coaches have stuck around and become more established. Like with anything, it starts with coaches and our coaches have bought in and stuck around.” 

Today, the program includes a 12U team, three 14U teams, two 16U teams and an 18U team with 80 girls and 26 schools represented.

“You can tell the difference between girls that play travel ball and the girls that just play high school ball during the spring,” said Fury 16U coach Doug Bergman, who has coached the same group of girls for the last four years. “The girls that play during the summer, even in the fall sometimes, you can just tell experience wise and what’s going on, they know what to expect.”  

“The first rule of thumb for me is the more games you play period the better off you are,” said Fury 14U coach John Inskeep, who also coaches the junior varsity softball team at Minster. 

Inskeep also helps coach his son’s baseball teams and referenced the baseball scene in the area and the amount of tournaments that were available to them compared to softball. 

“Girls fast pitch softball doesn’t have that,” said Inskeep. “But if you’re a girl who want to get as many games in as the baseball guys do, Fury or club is your answer. That’s how you get games and experience. If you can play and compete and seek out that higher level, it’s definitely going to help.”

Anna product Olivia Place, who played softball at Sinclair Community College last year and has been on the Fury 18U team for the last two years, has been a part of the program for six years after hearing about the Fury.

“It’s incredible,” said Place of her experience with the program. “Playing with different girls around Ohio that will make you better. Learning the game, playing the best teams in Ohio, I think it’s your best chance at getting better at the game.” 

“I’ve gotten different points of views from coaches, different work,” said Lexi Bishop, a senior centerfielder to be at Minster, who has been with the Fury for four years and has aspirations of playing softball at the next level. “If you’re trying to improve and get to the next level, travel ball is something you should do. It’s a whole different competition from travel to high school, we went to a Findlay tournament and faced pitchers from New York. It just gives you a different look at teams and competition.” 

“Just the competition, I feel like, is so much greater,” added Lyndi Hemmelgarn, a freshman second baseman to be, who has been with the Fury since the sixth grade. “There’s a lot of different pitchers you face and hard hitters at tournaments. It felt unreal that some of the girls were my age with how hard they were hitting or throwing. It felt a whole lot different but made me a lot better by getting repetitions off of kids who are challenging me to hit harder pitchers or field harder balls.” 

The Fury allows coaches to build their tournament schedule based on their talent and level of competition they’re looking for that season. In addition to being flexible with tournament scheduling, the Fury also recognizes that many of its athletes are more than just softball players. 

“In our area we have so many three sport athletes that play club volleyball in the spring, basketball in the spring and summer, even club sports sometimes,” said Hemmelgarn. “We try, with our schedule, cost and practice schedule, we try to cater to those three sports athletes rather than bogging them down and having them only play softball.”

“The Fury, because of the area were in, I think they’re one of the best clubs around that is mindful of the balance we need to strike between girls needing to play other sport and trying to get better at softball,” said Inskeep in agreeance. “It comes out of our coaches coming from Minster, Fort Loramie, Fort Recovery and more. As a softball coach, you have to work with the other sports. We’re used to it coming into it.” 

“We want to develop well rounded athletes and I feel we cater to athletes who play multiple sports so that their family can have a life in the summer too,” added Hemmelgarn. “Some organizations play 8-10 tournaments in the summer. I tell our coaches to keep it at 4-5 so they and their players and families can do other stuff in the summer too."

With 80 girls from 26 schools, and the prowess of athletics in this area meaning consistently good teams across a variety of sports, it makes for healthy competition come spring time with their high school teams. 

“That made the games so much more fun,” said Place. “Local teams having girls on each team made it a better competition around the area. This area is getting so much better softball wise with the travel ball around here.” 

“They’re fun. Minster and Fort Loramie have a rivalry anyways,” said Inskeep, with the core of his roster from those two schools. “My assistant coach is Brad Turner who is the head coach at Fort Loramie. We see a lot of each other, sit in each other’s dugout talking about the game. It’s a weird situation when you’re pitted against each other at the high school level let alone a rec. game but it's fun.”

“When we played Fort Loramie in rec., I think  there were four Minster girls from Fury playing and three from Fort Loramie,” added Inskeep. “The game ended and the Fort Loramie and Minster Fury girls met at home plate and got pictures together. It does get some sideways look from some fans that don’t realize they play together on the weekends but that builds relationships. In this era, they’re willing to text and snapchat and stay in contact with each other.”