With the Area tournament looming in two weeks, the Faribault Flash Special Olympics team faces a conundrum: Will it be able to send its usual two teams to the area and state tournaments?
The Flash’s coach-pitch (CP) and athlete-pitch (AP) teams wrapped up their third weekly practice Thursday at North Alexander Park.
The coach-pitch team currently sits at eight players and the athlete-pitch at 14. Both numbers are down from recent years.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Flash CP coach Tonia Warmington. “So many people who play year after year aren’t. We send out postcards to all of our athletes announcing all the sports saying when they are. It’s all free, you can come and go.”
Nine players are required to play in the Area 10 tournament Aug. 24 at Caswell Park in North Mankato. All teams who compete at their respective area tournament advance to state, but not teams that forfeit.
The two Flash teams are working in conjunction to balance out the rosters to be able to both compete.
“That’s our goal to try to even out so they can field a team as well,” said Flash AP coach Brett Underdahl. “That’s kind of been our toughest thing in general. At one point we were close enough to almost have three teams and now we’re struggling to field two. The biggest thing is the skill level between teams and who is willing to go down to balance it out.”
A contingency plan is in place if the CP team cannot compete in Mankato and subsequently at the state tournament Sept. 28-29 at HealthEast Sports Center in Woodbury.
“Depending how many people we get, at this skill level, we do the best we can. Most of it is to have fun,” Warmington said. “At this skill level there’s not a real high level skill, so it’s more about the camaraderie and having fun and getting together. So even if we end up not going to area and we can’t get that team filled we’ll offer it out to keep practicing every Thursday. Why not?”
The CP team spends an hour together on Thursdays taking turns at the plate, in the field and running the bases. A little healthy banter caroms around the diamond from coaches to players.
At an adjacent field at North Alexander practices the AP team.
There’s some movement between positions on the field during practice. But for the most part, athletes from Faribault and surrounding communities, like Northfield, latch on to a specific position.
“We really have the players dialed in to where they’re best at. Good or bad, they kind of specialize a little bit,” Underdahl said. “So what we really try to do is kind of run through game scenarios. A little bit of fielding. It’s tough, because the two teams are not close to where we could scrimmage because the skill levels are so off. So we just rotate them in and run through game scenarios the best we can. That seems to be the best way for them to get the skills down is to actually do it, doing a lot of drills.”
For both teams, the main objective is having a good time. On a beautiful 75-degree night on Thursday, it was tough not to.
“We’re here to make sure they have fun and learn the rules of the game and everything, but most importantly it’s to have fun,” Underdahl said. “We’ve had instances where they get a little hard on themselves because they missed a play or got walloped in a game. So we take a breather afterward and remind them ‘Hey, we’re here to have fun. Did you have fun?’ That’s ultimately why we’re here.”
There is no cost for Faribault Flash athletes to participate in sports throughout the year. Bowling is the next sport offered beginning in late September.
An athlete is welcome to provide his or her own equipment, though all necessary equipment is provided thanks to fundraising efforts throughout the year.
The Flash’s upcoming fall bowling fundraiser is the organization’s main fundraiser.