FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 1, 2019) -- The All-Army men's softball team tryouts are underway here with a new coaching staff, a pro-style combine, and a focus on speed and game-situation processes, or softball I.Q.

Head coach Sgt. Maj. Dan Davis and assistant coach Chief Warrant Officer 4 Elmer Mason have been evaluating 21 invited players who arrived July 23. Only 15 players will be on the roster for the Armed Forces Men's Softball Championship tournament, Aug. 12-18, at Pensacola, Fla.

"We're looking for players who can come together as one group," said Mason, who is assigned to Special Operations Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. "They don't have to be the best player on the team, but they have to be the best player for the team."

The theme for the All-Army men's softball team is "Playing with the Best, Supporting Soldier Readiness," Davis said.

The candidates represent over 15 military occupational specialties, rank from sergeants to warrants to commissioned officers, and average about two deployments each, said Davis, who is the provost marshal sergeant major at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Nine of them are veteran players -- those who have represented All-Army softball previously.

Between 50 and 70 Soldiers Armywide applied for the team online through Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's All-Army sports program, Davis said. Players were invited to the tryouts based on their experience, and also scouting reports from All-Army softball alumni. Because of technology, Davis said he was able to watch live some of the applicants at the Pacific-wide softball tournament in Korea.

Davis and Mason know what kind of players it takes to win the Armed Forces Softball Championship.

Davis played for the All-Army men's softball team from 2003 through 2006. In 2003, he won a gold medal as part of the team, and was selected for the All-Armed Forces men's softball team. He played right fielder and catcher.

Mason, too, has years of experience with the team as a player winning gold, and making the All-Armed Forces men's softball team.

TRAINING
At the combine, players are evaluated on their speed from home plate to first base, and from second base to home, Davis said.

"We look at arm strength ... from infielders' abilities to throw the ball across the diamond, and the outfielders' abilities to throw the ball to the plate,"

The batting practice is very structured, Davis said. It includes putting a batter in a theoretical game situation to see if he can execute the instructions he is given. And the infield, and outfield players are put through numerous game situations.

The team is split in two with a mix of veterans and rookies, so there is an Army Black team and an Army Gold team for intersquad play. This past weekend the Black and Gold teams played regional teams, including the Fort Sill post-level softball team in a tournament here.

Beyond the hard skills, the coaches are looking for players who play softball the Army way, Mason said.

"You have to play the game with discipline, you have to play the game with pride, with professionalism, with respect, because we are Soldier-athletes, not athlete-Soldiers," Mason said.

Davis said is looking to determine his final roster sometime this week, but two team captains have already made the squad: Sgt. 1st Class Jimmy Segrue, Warrior Transition Battalion, Fort Belvoir, Va.; and Master Sgt. Ben Kahalehoe, 94th Air and Missile Defense Command, Hawaii. This is Segrue's fifth year as a captain.

"The role of the captain is to lead on and off the field, and ensure the coaching philosophy is adhered to," Davis said. "Segrue and Kahalehoe are outstanding Soldier-athletes, best of the best."

Also on the team is athletic trainer Sgt. Nathaniel Fox, a physical therapy tech from Fort Huachuca. His role is to ensure the players are physically ready to go, he said.

"Mainly, I see musculoskeletal issues," he said. "Softball is a start-and-stop sport, so I see a lot of hamstring pulls and tears." Other issues he regularly tends include hydration, general soreness, shoulder pain, and abrasions from sliding.

FORT SILL HOPEFULS
Staff Sgt. Leonardo Aviles, Fort Sill Dental Activity Command operations noncommissioned officer in charge; Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Sonnenburg, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery, Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeant; and Capt. Rashad Shelton, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery, Basic Officer Leader Course instructor, are veteran players who are again trying to make the squad.

Sonnenburg said he was impressed with the combine workouts. "It's the best training that I've seen."

Shelton said he was on the team last year, but had to withdraw from the tournament because of operational commitments.

"This (tryout) is special for me because for the last 10 years I've had the honor of wearing 'Army' across my chest, but I'll be leaving the service," said Shelton, who plans to go work for a defense contractor.

Rookie Sgt. Micheal Canalin, 728th Military Police Battalion, Schofield Barracks, is one of four Soldiers from Hawaii units who are trying to make the team.

"It's been a great experience. A lot of the guys are taking me under their wings, trying to get me to play at this level," said Canalin, who played football at Butte College, Calif.

Canalin said he's trying out for the team because "it's a great chance to represent the Army." He's an outfielder and pitcher, and said if he makes the squad he'll bring power hitting, base running, and substitute playing. He noted that softball is played year-round in Hawaii.

ARMY SPORTS
Softball is the largest intramural sport in the Army, Davis said.

"It's probably the most enjoyed and played activity as far as camaraderie," he said. "All of those players want to be here (All-Army tryouts). This is the challenge for them, this is why they put in all the hard work."

The All-Army sports program prominently promotes the Army, and it's Soldier-athletes who gain tremendously from it, Davis said. In addition to the competitiveness, leadership, and teambuilding skills that sports instills, there is the vast networking and sharing which promotes readiness.

They will always be able to reach out to a teammate, said Davis. For example an intel Soldier now knows someone in the supply chain and can contact him if he needs information about say, requisitions. Many of the Soldiers are sharing their deployment experiences, too.

Davis said he still talks to the band of brothers that he played with on the 2003 softball team. "That has been so important for my career."

Now the team is playing local tournaments, but the final squad will play tournaments at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Benning, Ga., before heading to Pensacola, Davis said.

The coaches said they are excited about the opportunity to lead the All-Army men's softball team.

"The United States Army has entrusted Coach Davis and myself with this program, so we will put the best program out there," Mason said.