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'Love for the game' for Speierman at STARS camp

WINFIELD

If any of the young softball players who attended the Maryland STARS Summer Softball Clinic this week at Mayeski Park grow up to be quality high school pitchers, they'll have one of the best to ever play in Maryland to thank for it.

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That's because the director of the clinic, Stephanie Speierman, knows a thing or two about the sport.

She played for the STARS, a prestigious fast-pitch travel organization based in Winfield. Her high school career at Hammond (2006-09) was elite — Speierman won 71 games, and her 1,361 strikeouts are still a state record — and she played her college softball at Michigan, where she went 22-1 with a 2.06 ERA in four seasons.

Speierman has been volunteering as a STARS camp counselor for the past decade, and as director of the clinic for a few years. With help from Christina Warholic, a Liberty graduate and member of the original STARS team in 1997, Speierman is spending the week with more than 30 girls ages 7-13.

The camp, which ends Friday, preaches fundamentals and has the girls going through various drills to focus on different aspects of softball.

"I think the biggest thing for all of the counselors that are here is trying to reach them that love for the game," Speierman said during a break in Thursday's afternoon session. "I told the counselors before we started this week that it's ... getting the kids to love it the way that we love it. You don't have to be great at it. It's fine."

The afternoon began around 12:30, and after warm-ups and some sliding and base running drills, Speierman and her helpers divided a group of 10 campers onto three fields. One was for fielding, one for catching, and one for pitching.

Three pitchers worked on delivery and technique while Speierman shifted between each girl and instructed when necessary.

The morning session brought 22 players, but with 15 counselors the group never seems unmanageable.

"We do try to keep it small," Speierman said. "We try to make sure there's a lot of one-on-one attention. And they get a lot of work. It's not about making money, it's about making sure they they're getting the fundamental work that they need."

That's what Speierman and Andrea Ottomano were doing while the 11-year-old from Hanover, Pa., donned a face guard and hummed fastballs to a counselor playing catcher.

Ottomano, whose mother Peggy watched from the sideline, is a STARS player for the first time after spending a few years with the PA Ball Hawks in York. The big reason for the switch?

"I wanted to work with Stephanie," said Ottomano, who throws a fastball, change-up, and drop ball. "I just wanted to work on my mechanics, and learn more about her mechanics."

Speierman rotated the campers to each field so everyone who wanted to pitch or catch could get their reps in. Meanwhile, Warholic and a handful of counselors stayed on the main field at Mayeski.

One of the counselors was Erin Stephey, a recent Century grad and current member of the STARS 18-under travel team. Stephey, a four-time Times first-team all-county selection, came to the week-long camp because she wanted to give back to the organization.

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"I actually went to this camp when I was younger," Stephey said. "Teaching them what I've already been through, my experiences and my knowledge. ... They're learning a lot from [Speierman]."

Speierman said the goal is to promote the STARS and get some repeat customers for the program's summer clinic. That's how so many counselors, former and current STARS players, keep coming back. Building a foundation at a younger age is the key, she said, and Speierman was all smiles talking about the benefits of this week's gathering.

"You come to Mayeski, this is home. This is where I grew up," Speierman said. "From the time I was 12, I remember the first time I came to tryouts for the STARS. It's home, that is what it is. It's such a great feeling."

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