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New girls softball team takes field in Roland Park

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Katrina Marinelli swung for the fences and got all ball. "Nice hit," said a teammate.

It wasn't really a hit. The 12-year-old Roland Park girl was hitting a softball off a tee into a net during practice, as the Rams, a newly formed girls softball team at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, prepared for an April 8 away game against Dumbarton Middle School in Rodgers Forge.

Coaches and parents who organized the team say it's the first girls softball team at the school in many years, if not ever, and a rarity in the budget-conscious Baltimore Public School System, where middle school softball is considered a luxury.

Katrina said she has played in the mostly boys' Roland Park Baseball Leagues since she was 6 or 7, but, "a lot of my friends have been encouraging me to try out for the softball team. I thought it would be fun to be on the first team and support my school while I'm doing it."

Katrina, who also plays soccer and basketball, would like to keep playing baseball, too, but said, "It might be tough, so not this year."

The team is the brainchild of parent Lori Paine, whose oldest son, Zeke Texter, 13, plays baseball for Friends School and the Roland Park Baseball Leagues. Her youngest son, Eli, 9, also plays for the Roland Park Baseball Leagues and attends Roland Park Elementary/Middle.

Paine said she got the idea for a team when her daughter, Emma Texter, now 12, was deciding where to go to middle school. Emma, who plays for the Lasers, a travel team in the Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Leagues, decided to go to middle school at Roland Park. Although other schools she had considered had softball teams, Roland Park didn't.

"I wondered, why couldn't we have (a team) here?" Paine said.

Paine makes her pitch

Paine partnered with the 66-team Roland Park Baseball Leagues, which sponsored the team administratively, helped get discount prices on equipment, let the team use its website, invited the team to participate in the league's Opening Day ceremonies at Gilman School on April 5, and even included the team on Page 157 of the league's glossy, 172-page program.

Paine also approached Roland Park Principal Nicholas D'Ambrosio — at a time when there were discussions about how to diversify girls sports at the school — and got funding for round trip transportation to games. The school is also starting a softball club, in hopes of sparking interest in the team to make it sustainable.

Good Sports, a nonprofit in Quincy, Mass., donated uniforms. Good Sports provides athletic equipment, footwear and apparel to programs in need nationwide, according to its website, http://www.goodsports.org.

"Youth sports programs have faced severe budget cuts in most geographies and many organizations respond by shifting the costs to families in the form of higher fees," the site states. "Over 60 percent of suburban youth participate in sports leagues, compared to just 20 percent of urban youth."

Roland Park Elementary/Middle's PTA and school annual fund supported the purchase of equipment, Paine said.

Sonia Thompson, a graphic artist and mother of an eighth-grader at Roland Park, made the school's softball team logo and has been asked to adapt it for other sports teams at the school, Paine said.

Brett Linnenkohl, varsity baseball coach at Friends, and the founder and owner of Impact Clinics, and Impact Baseball and Softball academies, donated a 90-minute clinic session for the girls softball team April 1, led by Joyce Delp, Impact's lead softball instructor and a former player at Towson University.

If the softball team had been paying for the session, it would have cost $250 to $300, Linnenkohl said.

Linnenkohl, of Hampden, said his goal was to get the team "jump-started" and foster softball instruction for girls at an early age.

"It's been a huge need," he said. "There's a lot of girls that would love to play."

And he noted, "There's a lot of scholarship money out there for girls to play softball."

Full schedule

Now, the team of more than 20 girls — including Emma — will play area public and private schools, with its first home game scheduled for April 25 against Friends. The roster was winnowed down to 20 team members and three alternates from 47 who tried out.

"It was very hard" to make the cuts, said first-time girls softball coach Darlene Furno, of Guilford, a para-educator at Roland Park.

The game was supposed to be April 2, but was rescheduled because of bad weather and because the playing fields behind Roland Park Elementary/Middle were being refurbished, Paine said.

Other schools on the team's schedule through May include Roland Park Country School, Ridgely Middle, Notre Dame Prep and Baltimore Lutheran.

"It's a great experience for me as well as the girls," Furno said. "We have very quiet girls, and girls who are very excited and exuberant."

Furno, who also coaches volleyball and soccer, said her biggest expectation is "for the girls to have fun."

Parents of girls on the team are thrilled.

"It's fantastic. It's way overdue," said Ronald Rudisill, of East Baltimore, as he watched Delp instruct his daughter, Ivy, on how to play the outfield without turning her back on the ball.

"When you watch [Baltimore Orioles outfielder] Adam Jones, he never turns his back on the ball," said Joan Floura, of Radnor-Winston, a parent volunteer at Roland Park whose daughters, Cecilia and Corinne Charney, play on the softball team.

Many of the girls on the team play two or three sports, but as softball players they are still feeling their way and trying to gain team chemistry with only a few weeks of practice.

"They've really improved," Katrina said of her teammates. "We've gotten to know each other friendship-wise."

"I think we're doing good," said Emma. "We're not arguing a lot."

Most importantly, Emma is enjoying herself.

"It's really fun, and it gives me an opportunity to meet a lot of people," she said. "It's a chance to make friends."

Carrying the banner

It's also a chance for the girls to gain respect. Emma, Katrina, Corinne and Cecilia represented the Rams at the opening day ceremonies of the Roland Park Baseball Leagues — along with Furno, Paine, Floura, Paine's husband, John Texter, and Katrina's mom, Jane, who noted that her brother had once played in the league, as had her son, Michael, now a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ninth-grader.

The girls proudly carried the team's banner, surrounded mostly by boys, ages 5 to 15, in the 63-year-old league. Katrina brought her glove, in case anyone wanted to play catch.

"I even put a bow in my hair," said Corinne, who took a selfie with her cellphone of her posing with the Orioles Bird before the ceremonies.

"It's all about having fun," said league Commissioner Ken Rice.

And, said Furno, "When they get to high school, they're going to know where Roland Park is."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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