Jack Crandell and Tom Conley, the two coaches largely responsible for the softball boom in Anne Arundel County over the last decade, are getting out of the business.
After 18 years, their Tangerine Machine 18-and-under softball team has dissolved.
"Jack and I just got tired of the whole thing, and, yes, financeswere part of the reason," said Conley, who, with Crandell, began theorganization as the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Youth Organization in Brooklyn 18 years ago. It eventually became known as the Tangerine Machine when CYOs ceased to exist.
"It's gotten to the point if you want to do it the right way, you spend more time fund-raising than you do coaching, and we just got tired."
Within the last 10 years, Anne Arundel County has become the state's softball capital. Winning high school state championships and placing teams in the finals of four state classifications -- 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A -- has been the norm.
And some of this dominance can be attributed to the efforts of Crandell and Conley, who are the pioneers of successful girls fast-pitch softball in the county.
Thanks to their effort and dedication, windmill pitching is the norm, and the exposure county girls have gained has resulted in scores of college scholarships.
Windmill pitching was not allowed in the county Recreation and Parks leagues until the late '70s when Crandell and Conley forced the issue. Crandell began teaching windmill pitching to his girls and asked why the county leagues didn't allow it.
Soon, the county leagues woke up and said go with it. The rest is history.
From there, Crandell began turning out one superb pitcher after another on the Tangerine Machine. At firstonly a couple of schools prospered with Crandell proteges, but then just about 10 years ago, youth coach Russ Moore coaxed Crandell into spreading the wealth.
The popular fall and winter fast-pitch clinic run by Crandell was born, with nearly every school in the county gaining by the instruction. Suddenly we had an entire county of outstanding windmill pitchers, and it has continued.
"In the early years,we used to practice just our pitchers in the fall until it got cold," Conley said. "But about 10 years ago, Russ Moore got Chesapeake High School's gym for the winter and asked Jack to start a clinic.
"Now Jack runs his outdoor clinic in the fall and through the winter indoors."
Now you don't win a state title unless you have a windmillpitcher, and in most cases, that pitcher who leads her school to a championship somewhere along the way attended a Crandell clinic, no matter where she is from.
It also wasn't so long ago that the girls were treated as second-class citizens with their sport not taken seriously at all. They wore tennis shoes until Conley questioned local league officials and sporting goods salesmen why there were no girls cleats for softball.
"Our girls were the first to wear spikes in theBaltimore City leagues," said Conley. "Back then, they only made shoes for the guys but Bernie Ullman (former NFL rep and sporting goods dealer) got us shoes for our girls and that's how that began."
TheTangerine Machine was the first from the Baltimore area to travel toout-of-town tournaments, such as nationals and regionals. Now, teamstravel practically every weekend, and that's what has led to the breaking up of their team.
"It takes a lot of money to go to tournaments, but you have to do it for the competition," said Conley. "The girls have to learn to win tournaments, and the exposure to college opportunities is the result."
Over the years, the Tangerine Machine went to three national tournaments, finishing as high as 17th in New Mexico in 1982. But the demand to compete at the national level has increased to the point that the preparation means going to a tournamentevery weekend from the end of May through August.
"You're talkingabout $1,500 a weekend to go away to a tournament," said Conley, whohas seen firsthand what inflation has done to youth sports teams.
Conley estimated it costs nearly $10,000 a year to run a traveling team these days, which is about six trips a summer.
"About seven oreight years ago it was about $30 a night for hotel rooms, and now it's about $60 a night and lunch or dinner at McDonald's is about double what it was then," said Conley, who with Crandell took the Tangerine Machine to Colorado this summer for some big tournaments around theFourth of July.
Like teams composed of older players, the Tangerine Machine had no registration fees for the girls, but would ask the players to pay their airfare to distant tournaments.
"The last fewyears we've spent most of the winter months raising money with 50-50s, bingos, dances, 100-inning marathons, baseball card shows, flea markets. You name it and we've done it," said Conley. "After awhile, you get a little tired of it all."
Yet, through all that time, Crandell has never charged a fee for his clinics. He's accepted donations,but to this day, the fine points of windmill pitching has been taught free of charge.
This county has no better bargain, and many girls, such as Jennifer Grinath, the former Northeast star now at Ryder College (Pa.), and Andi Huck, formerly of Old Mill now at LaSalle, have received college scholarships.
"We get kids 6 to 7 years old, tomen who come to throw at the clinics, and we've just never asked fora fee," said Conley, who teaches along with Crandell and such well-known softball coaches as Paul Tewey, Ron Schelhouse and Joe Cunningham.
The good news is that Crandell and Conley are continuing their clinics for the girls. Crandell accepts a fee for the superb lecture on the art of windmill pitching that he so expertly renders when groups charge a fee to attend.
But despite the fact that this guy has become a guru of sorts of girls softball, he never has taken advantage of his reputation at the expense of youngsters eager to learn. It'sthat kind of attitude and dedication we will miss, but he and Conleywon't miss the anxiety of worrying where the next dollar is coming to run a first-class team.
I read with great interest recently in The Evening Sun about how the nationally known Johnny's 20-and-under baseball team is about to fold because of increased operating costs. In that story, longtime Milwaukee Brewers' scouting supervisor Walter Youse admitted to paying his coaches as part of his team's expenses.
The Tangerine Machine has become like the Johnny's of girls softball, but its coaches do not get paid. They work for the love of the game and to help young girls. I sometimes wonder if that is truly appreciated by the players and their parents.
"I think some of them (parents) appreciate the things we do for the girls, and I think a lot of them do later on after they've grown up, and can look back on that part of their life," said Conley.
Raising the money needed to run a big-time summer team has become quite a burden, but nonetheless, Conley sees the game being very strong and getting bigger. He doesn't feel the departure of the Tangerine Machine will in hurt softball, butinstead might encourage other teams "to take our place and carry on."
Here's hoping that Crandell and Conley come back in the future because they are the kind of people we need coaching youngsters. Theircontributions over the years are immeasurable.
Without Crandell and Conley, girls softball wouldn't be what it is today and the girls wouldn't have the opportunities they do now.
Jack Crandell and TomConley have done more for women's sports than Title IX or anyone else in the history of Anne Arundel County sports. They gave girls sports status.