During a sweltering Tuesday evening at the athletic field behind Graham Junior High School, 10 girls wearing black knee-high socks, pink shorts and pink sleeveless shirts with “Wildsox” printed on the chest threw softballs around.
Coach Justin Tate hit balls onto the makeshift softball field so the girls could work on base running and defense as parents watched in lawn chairs under a canopy tent.
The coaches stopped play occasionally to give instructions and make sure the Wildsox softball team was ready for its trip to the PONY 8U Pinto League Fast Pitch Softball World Series in Lubbock, Texas.
“We're really excited,” Tate said. “Hopefully we can go down there and compete. Even if we don't win every game, it's a great experience and they'll be able to take it with them forever.”
The Wildsox qualified for the PONY World Series at the end of June. PONY, which stands for Protect Our Nation's Youth, started in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1951 to give youth a way to grow into “healthier and happier adults” through youth baseball and softball.
The team has played in the 8U Platinum Travel/Select divison with PONY since April, participating in weekend tournaments throughout Texas.
Teams from all across the country and the world, including the Phillippines, Australia and Puerto Rico, will compete at the World Series. Tate said the 8U division may not have international teams, but the older divisions will. The 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U, 18U and 23U World Series are also in Lubbock.
Qualifying for the prestigious event required winning a state or national tournament, but the Texas teams took a slightly different route.
As the host state, Texas is allowed to send multiple teams to the big show. The top four teams from the north, south and central Texas regional tournaments were invited.
The Wildsox outscored its sectional opponents 52-9 through four games to qualify for regionals, according to Tate. However, the team bypassed regionals, June 26-29, on its way to the World Series because of dominant performances at sectionals and previous tournaments.
“I know at one point there were some teams that said if we were going to the regionals they weren't going to go,” Tate said.
Creating such a dominant team seemed as long as it was laborious, and Tate held group and individual tryouts during January and February to build the best travel squad possible.
This meant looking in the towns surrounding Graham, including Mineral Wells, Graford and Jacksboro. The revamped Wildsox now count five Graham girls on its roster and had its first practice in March.
Tate's dedication to finding the top players in the area paid off, with the first-year team accumulating a 22-11 record and the area's first invitation to a World Series.
Read the full story in this weekend's Graham Leader.