25 years and counting: What makes Wasco Diamond girls' fastpitch softball a winning program
Many local youth sports programs do what they were designed to do -- give kids a place to have fun and exercise, learn how to play a game properly and experience how teamwork produces results. In a package like that, they address many of life's essential skills.
But some take it up a notch, so to speak, operating on the premise that if you try out for and make this particular team or league, it will help you excel and improve and ultimately continue with the sport.
The Wasco Diamonds girls' fastpitch softball program has earned that reputation over 25 years, notching more than 100 tournament victories and a few National Age Group Championships as well.
Current program president and longtime coach Bill Morrow has led teams to 60 of those championships. He is carrying on a legacy initiated through the determination of Joe Garbarski, who spearheaded the travel team concept and garnered enough interest and support to create the Diamonds out of the original Wasco Girls Softball League.
Garbarski and Morrow will host many of the clinics and an array of food and fun as the Diamonds program celebrates its 25th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, and Sunday, Aug. 15, on its home fields at Anderson Park on Brown Road in Wasco.
"The program really took over nationally with all of the tournaments Bill's teams played and won," said Garbarski, who stepped down from coaching and running the program in 2007.
"One thing I am really proud of is seeing how all of these young women have turned out in softball and their lives; it is really very impressive," Garbarski said. "The team I started with in 1995 had nine players who played together from 10U to 18U, which is pretty rare and very special."
Thousands of girls earned academic and athletic scholarships worth millions of dollars after participating in the program, which has earned a nationwide reputation for producing highly competitive teams and "young women who make a difference in their communities," Garbarski said.
It is fairly common to see past Wasco Diamonds players competing at all NCAA division levels and on NAIA school teams or with numerous community colleges. They also have dotted rosters in the Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, MAC, Horizon League, Conference USA and others.
Garbarski says the program has been a big part of his life, but he points to his first assistant coach Denny DeWitte and program volunteer Traci Medina, who have both since passed away, as vital to getting the Diamonds off the ground.
"Both individuals left this earth many, many years before they should have," Garbarski said. "Denny was a gentle giant, and I still regard him as one of the nicest men I have ever met."
Medina went "above and beyond" in everything she did, Garbarski added. "She worked tirelessly on our behalf and even worked for a time on the Fastpitch News publication, which was headquartered in St. Charles."
The festivities surrounding the Diamonds' 25th anniversary confirm yet again that Wasco has had something special going on with youth sports programs for some time.
Those involved with the Diamonds give much of the credit to the Wasco Baseball organization operating in the late 1980s as one with a great reputation as a strong program and solid traveling team operation. League president Sam Gallucci built that boys' program to the point that much of its success and positive marketing rubbed off on the girls' softball league.
It has all pointed to one extraordinary consistency: The Wasco Diamonds win a lot of games and produce a lot of quality young women.
We don't like families?
It's not that I want to discourage family restaurant chains from operating in the Tri-Cities area, but they do tend to fade away over time in these parts.
Denny's, on Randall Road in Batavia, is the latest to fold up shop. Through the years, we have lost Applebee's, Bennigans, TGI Friday (also very recently) and, on the private operation front, Corfu in St. Charles.
The east-side Olive Garden and Colonial Café in St. Charles remain open, and Batavia has a Chili's. Still, most of the other family-type operations in the area are strong on the breakfast theme and are closed by 2 p.m. most days.
Even the Papa G's family restaurant in Elburn closed a few years ago, and the Ream's meat market swooped into that location on Main Street.
I'm probably overlooking a few, especially as you travel north or south on Randall Road out of the Tri-Cities region. Village Squire is still in business and comes to mind as one people enjoy.
But the trend has been fairly apparent that many of the chains don't have long-term success here. It could be that, on a national level, they are struggling as well. And to try to carry on in an area with fewer potential customers than other more populated regions makes our locations a little more vulnerable.
A wonderful experience
It usually doesn't take long to get frustrated on Facebook, where most everyone can share opinions. So I spend as little time as possible on the social media channel.
It's too bad the overflow of can't-win political blather or mean rhetoric took over Facebook because many funny or positive things can catch your attention.
The most uplifting thing I have seen in some time involved a young girl in her wheelchair.
Her mother had placed her on the new swings donated by the St. Charles Kiwanis that accommodate wheelchairs at the new inclusive playground at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.
Then she took a video of the young girl absolutely thrilled about being able to swing back and forth like everyone else. Her photo also appeared in the Daily Herald this week.
The importance of this certainly wasn't lost on her mother, who used her message to thank St. Charles Park District planners and others for making it possible.
She said something to the effect that those who made the playground become a reality may never know how much it means to these children.
But they do know. That's why they pursued the needed grants and donations and put in the time and effort to build this beautiful new facility that is open to all children.
The fruit cup trick
Reader Mary Cordes sent an email after reading my recent column item about the struggle for both kids and adults to open the small, packaged fruit cups common in a kid's lunch without making a mess.
She shared a cup-opening process that has worked without spilling juice all over the place as you tug on the tab.
"Instead of having the tab on the cup facing you while you pull back, turn the cup around, so the tab is farthest from you and pull it toward yourself ... slowly," she advised. "Seems to work pretty well."
If one teacher or mother can pass that along to a kid struggling to open one of these things, then it was worth mentioning.
Always getting bit
We recently went to a fairly large outdoor party with a wooded area as the backdrop, but I stayed put within a screened porch.
Why? Because if mosquitoes took a national survey in which they had to mention their favorite human being to bite, there is no doubt who would be at the top of the list.
No. 1 would have to be Dave Heun.