The Rampage softball program is among those feeling the sting of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Southwest Virginia-based youth program, which competes under the USA Softball of Tennessee banner, had its best year on the field last season, hauling in 10 tournament championships.
“It was our best year by far,” said Toby Sturgill, president of the Rampage organization he started in 2017.
In addition to running the Rampage, Sturgill coaches the program’s 16-under and 14-under teams — with a lot of help.
“We have some great coaches and great parents,” he said. “I’ve been really blessed with coaches and parents and to have so much support for the group.
“Sometimes we go to tournaments that start at 8 a.m. and they don’t end until about 2 a.m. the next morning. But everyone is right there and no one is complaining. And they bring snacks and drinks for everyone. It’s really family-oriented and family-based.”
The program has grown dramatically in its three years. It fields five teams, for 16U, 14U, 12U, 10U and 8U, and Sturgill said about 75 to 80 girls participate within those age groups.
The teams compete in about 30 tournaments, primarily in the Tri-Cities area, from March through October. In November, Rampage squads participate in a national tournament based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which draws about 60 teams.
Rampage players come from throughout the communities of Wise, Coeburn, Big Stone Gap, Norton and Clintwood in Southwest Virginia along with a few from Letcher County, Kentucky, and Bristol, Tennessee.
“It’s really amazing at how all of these girls from different places gel so well when they’re playing on the softball field,” Sturgill said. “We’ve always told them that Monday through Friday you can be a Raider or a Warrior or a Wolf or whatever your school is, but come Saturday we all have to be Rampage. We’ve never had a problem with that.”
Sturgill said most of the players on the older teams also are on their schools’ varsity, junior varsity and middle school squads.
“When they play for the Rampage, they may not play the same position that they play on their school teams and they’ve always been OK with that,” he said. “It’s just where we need to them to play on the field for us and that may not be the same situation with their school team.”
While 2019 was a success on the field, the program was also struck with tragedy when Fate Fleming and Jason Taylor died. Both men were from Clintwood and had been with the program since it started, Sturgill said.
This year has brought a different kind of adversity. The pandemic has kept the program at a standstill since March.
“We were together in January and then we played a couple of indoor tournaments in February, but we’ve not had any practices or anything since then,” Sturgill said.
Teams played at indoor facilities at Aftershock in Bristol, Tennessee.
“They don’t have outfields, just infields,” he said. “But it’s good for working on live pitching and getting your infielders some work. It’s better than just being in a batting cage.”
The group has been staying in communication through social media.
May tournaments on the Rampage schedule were canceled, but Sturgill said it’s possible events could begin in June. That doesn’t necessarily mean his teams will be playing that soon.
“I’m going to leave that up to my parents,” Sturgill said concerning resumption of play. “If they don’t feel comfortable being out and having their kids out, that’s something that’s up to them.”