Hohenfels Softball League forges friendships, family
September 17, 2013
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Build it, and they will come.
The tag line for Kevin Costner's film "Field of Dreams" could easily apply to the softball league Brett and Jessica Meadows created at Hohenfels this summer. By the end of the season, nearly 50 spouses and family members had stepped into the batter's box.
When the Meadows arrived in Hohenfels in the early months of 2013, they learned that the garrison had unit level softball teams, but no community league.
"When I asked about starting one, they said, 'Well, you can try. It's never happened before, but you can try,'" Jessica remembered.
"We decided to build something for Army spouses and dependents, a community function for them to get together," said Brett.
Jessica created a sign-up roster at the Post Gym and began to get the word out. With 15 signatures, they decided to hold their first practice. Nearly 30 people showed up.
"The turnout was unbelievable," Jessica said.
"To be honest, when we first started, I was naïve in thinking, OK, we're going to go out and play some softball," Brett admitted. "We had a lot of German spouses that came out who had never even seen softball before. We had girls who'd hit the ball and run to third base. I realized we were going to have to take a step back."
Brett, who had passed up a baseball scholarship to join the Army, began holding two practices a week, starting with the basics.
"We had to start from scratch," Jessica said. "They didn't know the rules; they didn't know how to play."
With regular attendance averaging 25 players, Brett divided the players into two teams, and continued coaching both.
"We didn't want people to come out and be pushed away just because of their talent level," he said.
Under Brett's tutelage, the players began to increase their skill set. Games were held on Sundays between 'The Mood Swings' and 'The Dirty Diamonds.'
"Word of mouth was spreading so fast, we had like 40 ladies coming out wanting to play," Jessica said.
With holiday travel, family commitments, and block leave, participation varied each week, but Brett said on any given Sunday they could have between 23-32 ladies. He would adjust the team sizes accordingly, sometimes having up to 13 players on the field.
"If you came out, you got to play," he said.
One Sunday, close to 40 players arrived, so Brett divided them into three teams and ran a 'round robin' style tournament.
"Most of the ladies would say, 'Sundays are mine. I look forward to this all week,'" Jessica said, adding that the husbands were also an important part of the league. They would watch the children, grill food for lunch, and even help coach the bases.
"What the Meadows did for the community through this team is amazing," said player Mariana Greene. "I also totally appreciate all the food and drinks that everyone brings, the guys that grill, the husbands who coach, cheer and help as needed … What a great community!"
"Where it started out as a softball league, it turned out to be a lot more," said Brett.
"It turned out to be a family and brought the community just so much closer," Jessica agreed.
Team members varied in age from 15 to 50, and many of the women enjoyed the opportunity of sharing the experience with their teenage daughters. For Bobbie Peterson and her 17-year-old daughter Shayna, it meant even more.
"Everything was a struggle for us," Peterson said, referring to her relationship with her daughter. "It was to the point that our family was about to be ripped apart."
In a last ditch effort to bond with her daughter, Peterson decided to throw herself into the sport that Shayna loved.
"I could barely walk up a flight of stairs when I started," she said.
Peterson persevered, giving her all at each game and earning her daughter's respect. When the team played at the European Invitational Men & Women Slow-Pitch Softball Championship in Grafenwoehr, Aug. 16-18, Brett said Peterson earned Most Valuable Player.
"I never seen anything like it," he said. "She was diving for the ball, sliding. She was phenomenal."
The real reward for Peterson was the bond she forged with her daughter, their time on the diamond growing from competing against each other to quality time together.
"We do everything now," Peterson said. "She comes to me and says, 'I want to tell you what happened today.' Before, she wouldn't utter two words to me.
"I could never have thought that softball -- throwing a ball and hitting it with a stick -- would do something like that," she said. "Jessica and Brett saved my family."
Peterson is not alone in her sentiments. The team's Facebook page is riddled with similar statements as participants express how much the league meant to them.
"I'm so grateful for the Meadows for putting this together," wrote Tarany Allison. "I always have a blast and have met some really great people."
The players weren't the only ones to reap the rewards.
"Brett had just come home from another deployment, and this really brought us together as a family," said Jessica.
It wasn't just fun and games, though, and creating a league from scratch took a lot of work.
"It was 14 weeks of dedication," said Jessica, who handled the organizational aspect of the league while Brett coached, taught and umpired the games.
Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation donated the first bucket of balls, while Child, Youth and School Services provided the field and the equipment to drag and chalk it.
"It really was a community effort," Brett said. "A little time and effort and everything worked itself out."
Jessica said the players are chomping at the bit for the new season to start, calling for practices during warm days, joining the gym, and playing volleyball. In addition, they're hoping to start a traveling tournament team next year, and improve their showing in the championships.
Brett said they entered the tournament on a whim.
"It wasn't even let's take our all-stars, it was 'what 12 girls want to go play?'" he said.
Pitted against teams from larger garrisons who had been playing competitively all season, Brett admitted that his team was at a disadvantage, but he was proud of the way they played.
"We lost, but we competed well, and next year I expect to do that much better," he said.
Winning games, though, is not what the league was about.
"The friends you meet are way more important than the athletic results," said Brett. "The crowning achievement of this league is the amount of people who collectively got together and the friendships and ties built."
The league will have a booth set up at the Hohenfels Strong Team Expo on Oct. 2 at the Community Activity Center where they hope to recruit more players and share their love of the game.
"I really appreciate all the effort the Meadows put into this initiative," said Lt. Col. John J. Strange Jr., U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels commander. "What they achieved is kind of the essence of the Strong Team campaign. It's not necessarily about formal organizations, but informal organizations that feel like family, where people care about each other, they build relationships and a sense of belonging.
"And that's exactly what they did."