Former Stars celebrate
program’s growth during
Alumni Game at BNL Field
By Justin Sokeland
Brooke Ratliff is going to hear about this. She had been cautioned, on the drive to the ballpark for this alumni game featuring former Bedford North Lawrence softball stars, by her nine-year-old daughter. Young eyes were watching, although older eyes were the first to notice Ratliff failed to run hard to first on a ground ball.
“I may need to run for her,” Ratliff’s daughter muttered. That was after issuing a stern warning “‘Mom, if you strike out looking, I’m going to yell at you.” Ratliff, now a youth coach, had to smile. “I think she’s heard that way too many times,” she admitted.
On this sweltering, humid, melt-into-your-shoes evening, Ratliff is going to get a reprieve. So will the 34 other former Stars who basked, and baked, in the limelight once again, sweating through a doubleheader to celebrate a program they helped build. The mind is willing even if the muscles are now weak.
BNL, under the guidance of Jo Underwood, started from scratch in 1984. After 33 seasons and three other coaches, now closing on 500 wins during that span, those who built the foundation on which the new generation now stands returned to relive their youth. They ranged in age from late 40s to late teens, but it’s never too late to don that helmet – some still had their originals from their era, and those still fit even if uniforms don’t – and swing that bat again.
“I feel like I’m old enough to be Mom for all of them, at least most of them,” said Michelle Riester, a 1985 graduate who was the eldest. She was one of those who laid down the first bricks for the future and played college softball at Southeastern Illinois after one high school season. She was a constant star on the women’s fields at Murray Forest Park until knee injuries forced her retirement.
These pitchers weren’t arching the ball. Whitney (Raines) Carroll, Cassidy Morron and Sammi (Morron) Holmes were slinging heat. These members of the Red Helmet Society can still bring it.
The Stars have a lot worth remembering and celebrating. BNL had won 10 sectionals in those 33 seasons (with Underwood totaling 6) with Dennis Martin, Mike Matlock and Brad Gilbert (the current coach in his second stint) taking turns at the helm. Those who signed up on Facebook to play with the two alumni teams spanned all those eras.
“It doesn’t matter who you played for,” Gilbert said. “Once a Lady Star, always a Lady Star. We’re trying to do everything we can, as a program, to make sure they know they’re not forgotten.”
Who won? Does it matter? Well, the Blue squad bopped the Red 6-2 in Game 1 of the twinbill and won Game 2 by a 3-1 count in five innings. The second noticeable thing was many of the players can still swing the bat. Catching the ball was another story, but they are ladies and deserve some benefit of a lot of doubt. The toughest job was catching, which was why Shelby (Pittman) England and current BNL junior Hailey Miller did the bulk – probably because they might be the only ones who could squat that much and get up the next day.
The last noticeable thing was, aside from the 9-year-old critics section, these women are brutal trash talkers, tougher than most guys. Nobody was immune. The dugouts were comedy central. All in love, of course. Laughing, both at others and self, was just part of it. Maybe that’s because there were some roster trades taking place just prior to the game (rumor has it some were for a player to be named later).
Gilbert wants to make this an annual event. The first couple were hastily thrown together and featured a game against the current high school team. The goal is to use the alumni as an additional source for the Booster Club to raise funds for field projects (like fence signs to commemorate the sectional titles), to strengthen the bond between the past and the present.
“It’s come a long way,” Riester said. “They’ve done a tremendous job.”
Some of these women, now raising families, have future Stars, who are starting at a younger age, in the feeder system pipeline. They will soon be sitting in the stands, cheering for those in the BNL uniform they once wore with such pride.
“I love it,” Ratliff said. “I’m glad she loves it as much as I did. I can’t wait to see the coming years. It’s amazing.”