A. C. Cain

Finding the major stories in the minor leagues

Fightin Phils to honor fans, employees

As the Reading Fightin Phils prepare to wrap up the regular season, all eyes are focused on the playoffs. Before the historic season comes to a close, however, there is one more celebration to be had.

On September 1, the final home game of the 2016 season, the Fightins will dedicate the night to honoring the to groups that have made the historic 50-year affiliation possible: the fans and employees.

Fan Appreciation Night begins during the pre-game and continues throughout the night. This year, the festivities will include $10,000 worth of prizes being given away. The younger fans get the celebration started with a pre-game on-field candy grab. All Kids’ Club members will also receive a free ticket to the game. The older fans partake in the celebration throughout the night, where contests and raffles will make prizes available for them. The night also features the annual clunker car giveaway. Three fans will leave the stadium with cars, but they won’t be in good condition.

The Fightins will use the final home game of the season to honor, thank, and celebrate the fans that fill the stadium each night.  Photo by Ariane Cain.

The Fightins will use the final home game of the season to honor, thank, and celebrate the fans that fill the stadium each night. Photo by Ariane Cain.

A night dedicated to the fans is a fitting conclusion to the season for an organization that thrives on the strength of the fan base. The Fightins currently lead the Eastern League in both total attendance for the season and average attendance. Before the final home stand, the total attendance sits at 371,031, and the average attendance is 6,082.

The faithful fans are not th

The Employee Honor Roll holds a plaque for every employee who has worked for the organization for 10 or more years. A ceremony is held each year to induct employees in their tenth season. Photo by Ariane Cain.

The Employee Honor Roll holds a plaque for every employee who has worked for the organization for 10 or more years. A ceremony is held each year to induct employees in their tenth season. Photo by Ariane Cain.

e only people celebrated on this night, the faithful employees are celebrated in the annual Employee Honor Role ceremony. The Employee Honor Roll consists of all employees who have worked for the team for ten seasons or more.

Employees concluding their tenth season, and their families, will be treated to a pool party in the Reading Eagle Pool Pavilion. The employees will also be inducted into the Employee Honor Roll during an on-field ceremony when each employee will be

Each employee inducted into the Employee Honor Roll receives a plaque commemorating their ten seasons with the team.  Photo by Ariane Cain.

Each employee inducted into the Employee Honor Roll receives a plaque commemorating their ten seasons with the team. Photo by Ariane Cain.

announced and recognized, and will receive a plaque commemorating their tenth season. The names will then be added to the Employee Honor Roll plaque that hangs inside the employee entrance.

This ceremony is also when the recipient of the Neale Bechtel Employee of the Year Award will be revealed. The award is given to a game-staff employee who embodies the spirit of the organization. The recipient is nominated by the other game-staff employees. The award, named in honor of the late Neale Bechtel who was lovingly known around the stadium as “The Singing Usher,” is typically given to an employee who has become a staple at the stadium; someone who is recognized by employees and fans alike for the effort, devotion, and care they have put into their work at the ballpark.

In the final ceremony of the night, the end-of-season player awards will be given to the appropriate members of the team. These awards, ranging from a community service award to a team MVP award, highlight players who have been successful in every aspect of the game and community.

The final home game of the season is a chance to celebrate and, hopefully, a chance to look forward to the post-season and a potential championship. For the Fightins it is also a chance to thank and honor all of the people, fans, players, and employees, who have made the past 50 years a success for the organization and hope to make the next 50 years a success as well.

For tickets to remaining Fightin Phils’ games, or information on future promotions, visit Fightins.com or call 610-370-BALL.

For many animals adoption is a second chance at life

When searching for a new pet, consider adoption first and give an animal who needs help a chance at a better life. For information on local adoption centers, or other ways that you can help, visit pspca.org.

Music: www.bensound.com

Get softer, fresher smelling towels with baking soda

As summer heats up daily workouts become hotter and, unfortunately, sweatier. While athletes combat the heat and sweat in different ways, most will, at some point, resort to a sweat towel in an attempt to dry off and eliminate sweat from eyes, hands, and equipment.

These towels are put through the ringer, and after several washes they begin to lose their absorbency and softness. The bigger problem: they begin to smell. No athlete wants to wipe his or her face with a scratchy, smelly towel. The more the towels are washed, the rougher they begin to feel, and the smell never seems to go away.

The solution to eliminating this odor is most likely sitting in the pantry or fridge, already doing the job it is needed for: absorbing odors.

What is this mystery product?  Baking soda.

Towels begin to feel rough because typical fabric softeners leave a film on the towels. This film eliminates the fluffy, soft aspect of the towel, prevents the towels from being absorbent, and locks in the mildew smell that never seems to go away. When combined with vinegar, another ingredient most people have on hand, baking soda can eliminate odor and restore towels to their original absorbency and softness.


Infographic created by Ariane Cain at easel.ly

When washing towels, avoid using a fabric softener, as tempting as it is to load up on the softener to get the softest towels as possible. After washing, use two additional wash cycles, both on hot water, one with a cup of vinegar and one with half a cup of baking soda. The vinegar will cut through the film created by detergents, allowing the towels to become absorbent once again, while the baking soda will eliminate any odor from the towels, and help to restore their softness.

Dry the towels as usual, and they are ready for another run of hard, sweaty workouts.

This practice should not be limited to sweat towels; the technique can also increase the longevity of bath and beach towels. Terrycloth sweatbands and headbands can also be treated the same way after putting in the hard hours on the court or field.

The next time your sweat towel feels rough or begins to smell, don’t buy a new one, simply grab the baking soda you have sitting in the pantry.

Fightin’ Phils give back to the community with Toss-A-Ball event

When summer sets in the Reading Fightin’ Phils celebrate the season with firework shows nearly every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday game. While fans flock to the ballpark to watch the impressive displays, the Fightin’s pre-firework activities are even more impressive. Together with Savage 61 Dodge, the Fightin’s host Toss-A-Ball before each fireworks show. Toss-A-Ball is fun for the fans, and also a great cause.

Tennis balls used by the Fightin's in their Toss-A-Ball event. Each number is recorded when fans purchase the balls, allowing the team to determine the winners for each prize. (photo by Ariane Cain)

Tennis balls used by the Fightin’s in their Toss-A-Ball event. Each number is recorded when fans purchase the balls, allowing the team to determine the winners for each prize. (photo by Ariane Cain)

The idea behind Toss-A-Ball is simple: purchase numbered tennis balls throughout the game, throw the tennis balls onto the field or into the bed of a truck circling the warning track after the game, and win prizes. What is more important is the money raised by purchasing the tennis balls, which the Fightin’s immediately give to a non-profit organization.  With hundreds of balls purchased each night, the organizations are the true winners.

Organizations supported by the program cover a wide range, from the United Way of Berks County and the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, to local school districts, and even local families that are struggling to cope with recent hardships or tragedy.

The Fightin’s have even used the event to provide support for members of their own family, as several times the proceeds have been given to employees or interns fighting cancer.

With the Fightin’s furnishing prizes, such as season tickets, pool parties, first pitch packages, and one person winning $100 each time, there is plenty of incentive for fans.

Charity is turned into fun as the program is a season-long competition, which concludes at Toss-A-Ball Finals Night, where the most accurate tossers, one chosen from each event throughout the season, get the opportunity to compete for $1,000.

While Reading is often lauded for the charity work they do under Baseballtown Charities, it is important to remember that the organization gives back in other ways and encourages the fans to help give back as well.

The next time you come to a Fightin’s game to catch the fireworks show, be sure to buy some tennis balls, have some fun, and participate in a great event making a huge impact on the community and local non-profit organizations.

For more information on Toss-A-Ball, or to find a toss-a-ball night to attend, visit Fightin’s.com. Tickets to any games can be purchased on-line, in person at the stadium, or by calling 610-370-BALL. If you have a group or organization that could benefit from Toss-A-Ball, contact Fightin’s Director of Community Relations, Mike Robinson.

Fightin’s bring baseball to the next generation of fans with Education Days

On Thursday, May 26, 2016, the Reading Fightin’ Phils opened their gates to a very different crowd than usual. The 11:35am game was the third and final “Education Day” of 2016.

On Education Days, FirstEnergy Stadium is filled with thousands of school students on end-of-the-year field trips, their teachers, and their chaperones. A nice escape from the building for the students, the Fightin’s make sure it is not an escape from education.

Todd Hunsicker, the Fightin’s Director of Educational Programs, emcees the pregame events for the students, all of which focus on the importance of education and having fun while learning.

The day begins with demonstrations from various groups around the community. Earlier education games this year featured a penguin visitor from the Lehigh Valley Zoo and a physics demonstration from the Reading Public Museum.

Collin the velociraptor from the Reading Public Museum entertained the students on the field during the pre-game on My 26, 2016. (Photo by Ariane Cain)

Collin the velociraptor from the Reading Public Museum entertained the students on the field during the pre-game on My 26, 2016. (Photo by Ariane Cain)

On Thursday the Reading Public Museum returned, but instead of a physics demonstration they brought a velociraptor named Collin. Part of the limited time dinosaur exhibit, Collin delighted the students by walking on the field, dancing, and even throwing a first pitch.

Collin’s performance was followed by a demonstration from the Penn State Berks Chemical Society. Representatives from the Chemical Society taught the students about the properties of liquid nitrogen. They then demonstrated nitrogen’s quick transformation into a gas by pouring warm water, a soda bottle filled with liquid nitrogen, and 500 ping pong balls into a large trashcan. The students were amazed when the nitrogen’s quick expansion exploded the bottle and launched the ping pong balls high into the air over the field.

The action-packed demonstrations were followed up by what was probably the highlight of the day for many of the students: a question and answer session with Fightin’s players. Thursday’s answer session featured first baseman Rhys Hoskins and outfielder Christian Marrero. A roving camera and microphone allowed the students to ask questions from the stands, which Hoskins and Marrero gladly answered. The questions covered every subject, from favorite foods, to what other sports the played, and what pets they owned as children. The players completed the session by giving the students advice, and telling them to follow their dreams and stay in school.

A cotton candy serves students in the stands during Education Day. (Photo by Ariane Cain)

A cotton candy serves students in the stands during Education Day. (Photo by Ariane Cain)

The pregame festivities concluded with a baseball themed trivia game. Schools were asked questions of varying difficulty based on the grade level, while representatives from each school ran the bases, advancing one base for each correct answer. Students had fun shouting the answers from the stands and cheering on their runners, though, in the spirit of fun, no score was kept.

Finally, after all of the excitement, the children were treated to a baseball game as the Fightin’s took the field against the Erie Seawolves. The concession stands had long lines throughout the game, as students worked to make the most of the money parents had provided. Vendors were swarmed as they ventured into the stands carrying treats such as cotton candy and soft pretzels.

The students and teachers got to see more than they bargained for on this field trip. Thanks to a rehab assignment, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Cody Asche was in the Fightin’s lineup. Students got the opportunity to see a major league player in the small confines of the local ballpark, and Asche enjoyed getting the opportunity to play for the minor league fans once again.

The Vist Bank Plaza was a popular spot, as the Fightin’s set up a free water station and a misting station to combat the warm temperatures on the hottest day of the season so far.

The day was great all-around, as the Fightin’s used three home runs to beat the Seawolves, 7-4. The students loaded into their school buses and went home hot, happy and tired after an exciting, and educational, day at the ballpark.

For Abby and Travis Rutt the Fightin’ Phils are a family affair

Former Fightin’ Phils employees Abby and Travis Rutt discuss the impact the organization has had on them and their growing family. Interview by Ariane Cain.

In their 50th season of affiliation with the Philadelphia Phillies, the longest running affiliation in baseball, the Reading Fightin’ Phils have clearly found a secret to success that not every minor league team finds. The organization and their home mean so much to the local community that Reading, PA has been officially named Baseballtown, and FirstEnergy Stadium is known as America’s Classic Ballpark.

The organization is truly something special, creating a family out of baseball fans from every major league team. Generations of families have visited the ballpark, and many look forward to the time when they can bring their children and grandchildren to enjoy the same experience they had as children.

Abby and Travis Rutt, former Fightin’s employees, look forward to the memories their daughter will make at FirstEnergy Stadium, the place her parents first met.

“She’s already been to a game!” Abby says laughing, while imagining what the stadium will mean to their 4-month old daughter.

When Abby began working at the stadium in 2003, Travis had already been there for several years, beginning in 1997 or 1998.

“I would tell people it was like getting paid to hang out with your friends,” Abby said. “It was fun, it was really fun to work there. And you got to hang out with people, and you got to know, because the same people would come back every summer to work, so it was, you know, a chance to see all those people again. It was just fun.”

“I could really say the same thing,” Travis added. “It was fun. All my friends worked there; all my closest friends.”

What began for both as a simple summer job became much more. Both had been to the stadium numerous times throughout their childhoods, and had seen it evolve from a small, simple ballpark to the elaborate, innovative stadium it has become.

“Another thing that was really cool was getting to sing the National Anthem, actually numerous times,” Abby said. “It’s an opportunity I’m not sure I would have gotten if I didn’t work there.”

The organization invited her to sing the anthem at a game the Reading Phillies played at Citizens Bank Park. She also had the opportunity to sing before a game in which former Phillies second baseman Chase Utley played for the Reading Phillies on a rehab assignment. Singing for Utley easily makes the list of her favorite memories of the stadium.

What makes the stadium truly special, the two agree, is the tradition that surrounds it. As much as things change, there are pieces of the ballpark that always stay the same.

“They have season ticket holders that are senior citizens. And, you know, they had the singing usher who was there singing during the seventh-inning stretch until he got too sick to be able to get to the ballpark.”

The Singing Usher, Neal Bechtel, was such a staple at the ballpark that the Fightin’s introduced the Neal Bechtel Employee of the Year Award after his passing. A video of Bechtel singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is still played during the seventh-inning stretch several times each season as the organization’s way of honoring the tradition he became.

“I think people really hold on to that stuff,” Abby said, trying to sum up exactly what makes the small, familiar touches at the ballpark so special. “Because it’s such a tradition, it’s such a staple of this area.”

The tradition is one the Rutts are determined to keep alive by passing it down to their daughter, and hoping that the old ballpark becomes as special to her as it has to them.

For the Fightin’ Phils it’s all in the family

The Reading Fightin’ Phils have maintained a strong presence and fan base through their 50 year history; thriving in a town where several other baseball organizations struggled to field a team that fans wanted to see. Despite not always being the best team in the league, the Fightin’s stadium is filled year after year. The team receives compliments on the great atmosphere and the wonderful experience every trip to the ballpark becomes.

The secret? Reading has a mostly homegrown front office staff with several fulltime positions filled by former interns and fans. The front office is a family that has grown from the larger family of Fightin’s fans and employees.

The Fightin’s have traditionally hired front office employees from within their successful internship program; former interns fill 19 of 23 front office positions. For some, however, the connection to the team goes back farther than just an internship.

Travis Hart, promoted to Director of Food and Beverage for the 2016 season, began working for the Fightin’s as a game staff employee in concessions in 2005. He remained a game staff employee until becoming a concessions intern in 2013, and joined the club full-time the following season. Through his 12 seasons with the club Hart has interacted closely with the fans, whether he is serving them food or providing them with new and improved food and drink options. He is, however, not the only front office member to have begun his tenure with the club as a game staff employee.

Mike Robinson, Executive Director of Fan Relations and Community Development, began working for the Fightin’s as an usher in 1993. He has watched the organization grow into the fan friendly organization it is today, and has even had a hand in collecting and implementing fan suggestions.

As the Director of Fan Relations, Robinson gets to interact with the Fightin’s fans in several unique ways. Robinson gets to coordinate groups coming to the ballpark each season, always being sure to bring something new for the fans. He makes several trips out into the community each season, allowing him to interact with both the fans and the team in unique and exciting ways. As the director of interns, Robinson also gets the opportunity to find and bring new faces into the organization, as well as promote the organization to potential future employees.

Matt Jackson, the Fightin’ Phils’ Executive Director of Graphic Arts and Game Entertainment, has one of the most unique and strongest relationships with the Fightin’s fans. In his 18th season with the club, Jackson began as a game staff employee before becoming an intern and then joining the front office. The role he is most known for around the ballpark, however, is that of the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.

An ostrich riding, hot dog throwing character, the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor rose to instant fame both within the organization and across baseball. His popularity with the fans sparked a major rebranding in 2012, when the Reading Phillies became the Reading Fightin’ Phils with a new logo featuring an ostrich. The team also housed two live ostriches at the stadium for a couple of seasons.

Jackson’s Crazy Hot Dog Vendor has become a fan favorite mascot, with everyone clamoring to catch a free hotdog at the end of the second inning when he takes the field. The annual game celebrating the Hot Dog Vendor’s birthday is always one of the most popular games for the younger fans, when they have the opportunity to take the field with the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.

While Jackson’s connection to the fans may be the most unique, nearly every front office member has a history with the organization and the fans. The understanding of the organization’s past, and the importance of the future, helps to keep Fightin Phils’ games a place where everyone feels like family, and every game is a great time, regardless of whether the team wins or looses.

Fightin’ Phils’ fan experience is constantly evolving

The Reading Fightin’ Phils have remained in the city for 50 years in large part because of the strong fan base that continues to support the team each season. With attendance figures that frequently lead the Eastern League, or at least finish in the top three, the franchise clearly knows how to draw in fans.

Stadium Journey has ranked FirstEnergy Stadium in its list of the “Top 100 Stadium Experiences of 2015” at number 69. With a ballpark built in 1952, far older than the majority of the newer stadiums that make the list, the Fightin’ Phils have to work a bit harder to make their “classic” ballpark welcoming and relevant for fans.

As a result, the fan experiences are numerous and varied at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Fightin’s are constantly changing and improving the experience for the fans, making any trip to the ballpark new and exciting.

The new Grove Dental Photo Booth at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The new Grove Dental Photo Booth at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

One of the new additions for the 2016 season is the Grove Dental Photo Booth. Fans and their families have the opportunity to have a picture taken in front of a backdrop featuring Fightin’ Phils’ players J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, and Roman Quinn. The photos are then emailed to the family, for free, and fans are encouraged to share them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the tag #GroveDental.

The photo booth expands on a previous fan experience, the BB&T Social Media Vault. Fans are encouraged to share photos on social media throughout the game with #fightins. In the seventh inning, the best photos of the nights are shown on the video board, and the best photo of the night wins a prize. The Grove Dental Photo Booth photos are also included in the Social Media Vault.

The Fightin’s have also added to the fan experience this season by being the first Minor League stadium to test a new “Craft Beer Me” feature. The feature allows fans to order from a list of 50 craft beers in the MiLB Inside the Park app, and the drink will be delivered to their seat within minutes. The feature allows fans to enjoy every moment of the game without having to worry about waiting in line and missing the action.

In addition to the 50 craft beers offered through the app, the ballpark is serving an unprecedented 87 different beers throughout the ballpark to help celebrate the historic 50th season.

The Savage 61 Dugout Suite is another new fan experience added this season. The Dugout Suite allows fans to sit in a dugout just like the players, located along the right field line. In addition to the regular ticket, which includes a pre-game party on the warning track during batting practice, fans can add waitress service, all-you-can-eat, and all-you-can-drink. The luxury suite is very unique, and gives fans a whole new view of the game.

The Plaza Dance Party helps to keep the younger fans entertained throughout the game. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The Plaza Dance Party helps to keep the younger fans entertained throughout the game. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

Along with these new experiences, the Fightin’s maintain some of the old activities that fans have always enjoyed. Each game features a dance party in the plaza, perfect for young kids that are getting antsy sitting and watching the game. Also for the younger fans, Phunland provides plenty of games, rides, and prizes.

Fans have the opportunity to view the game from nearly anywhere in the park, including the left-field deck. Fans on the deck win Unique pretzels whenever the left fielder, affectionately called the Deck Head, gets on base. Fans are also encouraged to root for the Red Robin RBI Man who can earn free Red Robin appetizers for the crowd with an RBI. The Moe’s home run inning gives fans an opportunity to win free queso if the Fightin’s hit a home run.

The Fightin’ Phils respect their history, the main concourse is essentially a museum dedicated to baseball in Reading, but in order to maintain the strong fan base the team knows it needs to continue to evolve each season. Thanks to this constant evolution, no two trips to the ballpark are ever exactly the same, and the fans keep coming back for more.

From athlete’s standpoint Title IX has a long way to go

Since its creation in 1972, Title IX has made a lot of progress for gender equality in high school athletics. Girls are receiving more opportunities to play sports, and funding for girls’ and boys’ programs has begun to balance out.

Perhaps the most notable change Title IX has created is making others, coaches, athletic directors and administration, aware of the need for equality.


Infographic created by Ariane Cain at easel.ly

Thomas Legath, Exeter Township School District’s athletic director, thinks that the secret to being successful as far as Title IX is concerned is to view all of the teams simply as sports teams, without focusing on the difference between boys’ and girls’ teams.

“I treat every coach how they should be treated, and they don’t feel that they’re not getting something someone else is,” Legath said.

While those in charge focus on the big changes and see how far they have come, the student athletes are looking at the little things, and see how far they still have to go.

Jessica Stout, a senior at Exeter Township Senior High School, played varsity softball for three years and is currently a member of the track team. Her participation in the two sports has given her a unique perspective on these equality issues, and she notices the things that seem minor, but mean a lot to the students.

“Some of the products that we have for softball weren’t quite the same as baseball. Not a huge issue, but I would say, it would be nice. Just a little bit more equal,” Stout said, looking at the differences between baseball and softball.

Legath tries to stay ahead of Title IX by balancing out as much as he can from his end.

“I try to make sure the things I can control, which are the spending of the money for the teams, are consistent for our girls’ and boys’ teams,” Legath said.

Legath also makes sure that every team has an equal number of home and away games, and an equal amount of opportunities to play on the shared playing surfaces, such as the stadium and basketball courts.

For the students, it isn’t really a game of numbers.

The scoreboard at Exeter's varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The scoreboard at Exeter’s varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

“The boys definitely have the scoreboard functioning pretty nice, the girls don’t,” Stout said, providing a clear example.

The empty scoreboard frame at Exeter's varsity softball field. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The empty scoreboard frame at Exeter’s varsity softball field. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The scoreboards in question are drastically different, with the baseball field boasting a fully functioning electronic scoreboard. The softball field hosts a wooden frame, which used to have a simple scoreboard that has since been removed.

As Stout pointed out, it’s the small things that matter.

The view from the pitcher's mound, looking towards the outfield wall at Exeter's varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The view from the pitcher’s mound, looking towards the outfield wall at Exeter’s varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The baseball field has a permanent outfield fence and wall, while the softball team has a temporary snow fence erected each season. A permanent fence on the softball field would prevent the outfields of the back-to-back

The temporary fence constructed for the softball team each season. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The temporary fence constructed for the softball team each season. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

softball fields from becoming a Jr. High football and field hockey field during the fall season.


The majority of high schools in Berks County have nicely constructed dugouts on their baseball fields, while the softball fields have only benches for the teams.

The home dugout at Exeter's varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The home dugout at Exeter’s varsity baseball field. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

“It’s pretty equal with track,” Stout said, “because we’re all together. We use the same blocks, we use the same javelins and stuff like that. There’s not much that could be different.”

The field sports all use the same field, same stands, same benches and same scoreboard. Those sports that are forced to use different playing surfaces and equipment are the ones

The home bench at Exeter's varsity softball field. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The home bench at Exeter’s varsity softball field. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

that suffer, and because there are few sports in this situation, at Exeter baseball and softball are the only sports that cannot share a playing field, the differences tend to be overlooked.

Some differences can’t be helped, such as the fact that the school was built with the baseball field front and center while the softball fields are tucked away behind the Jr. high. Even Stout said that while it would be nice to be closer to the action, it’s not really an issue. While she admitted that the softball team loses some fans due to their lack of proximity to the high school, that isn’t really what matters the most to the team.

“I would like to see the equipment, stuff like that, especially along baseball, softball, more of stuff along those lines, balanced out a little,” Stout said.

Title IX has helped schools make a lot of progress in terms of gender equality, but, when the little things are considered, there is still a long way to go.




An expectation to win: How Exeter girls’ tennis changed from unnoticed to undefeated

Abby Rutt (Photo: Dr. John Pankratz)

Abby Rutt (Photo: Dr. John Pankratz)

At first glance, Abby Rutt looks more like a high school student than a teacher. On the tennis courts during practice she could easily be mistaken for a member of the team, not the coach. With a petite frame and a nearly permanent smile, she isn’t often described as intimidating. Underestimating her as a coach, however, could be a big mistake.

In the nine seasons Rutt has been a coach, the Exeter girls’ tennis team has gone from being one of the weakest sports programs in the school district to one of the strongest tennis teams in the state.

The journey began in 2007, when Rutt filled the new assistant coach position.

“I needed a job,” Rutt says, laughing at the unglamorous start to the story. “Plus I was going back to school for teaching, it would look good on my resume, and it was kind of the same thing as teaching, coaching, so it was a good way to step into it.”

Abby Rutt coaches a player in her first year as head coach. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Abby Rutt coaches a player in her first year as head coach. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Rutt’s carefree attitude as a coach matched that of her players, even when she became the head coach in 2008.

“A lot of those girls at that point were just doing it to have fun and be part of a team. They didn’t expect to win,” Rutt said.

Not only did the players have low expectations, a lack of success throughout the program’s history had formed very low expectations for the team in general.

“I think part of it is that nobody else expected them to win, so they didn’t have that kind of motivation, so it was a little hard to motivate them to push themselves harder to get better and try to get those wins,” Rutt said.

The path to the high school from the courts at the community park. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The bridge toward the high school campus from the courts at the community park. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

When Rutt began coaching, the team practiced and played on courts owned by the school, but located in a neighboring community park.

“We were literally over the river and through the woods,” Rutt joked, thinking of the trek the girls had to make to get to practice each day.

The community park courts, marked as property of the school district. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The community park courts, marked as property of the school district. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

On their isolated courts, the team received occasional cheers from the cross-country team passing by, but very few other spectators a part from parents. Several times the police had to be called to settle disputes happening elsewhere in the park during matches.

When Exeter made the unexpected decision to resurface the courts on the high school campus, Rutt made the decision to shift the practices and matches out of the park. While the high school only had four courts compared to the park’s five, Rutt felt the move would be beneficial for the team. While her thoughts were about safety and convenience, the move paid off in more ways than she anticipated.

The high school tennis courts lie just past the football field as a spectator approaches the school.

The high school tennis courts lie just past the football field as a spectator approaches the school. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

“I fully believe that made a huge impact,” Rutt said emphatically. “As far as mentality, and attitude . . . and just feeling part of the school, of the whole athletic program. And having a lot more support. You have the football team walking by and their coaches are calling out to you, and field hockey. There’s so much more support and motivation, and just that sense of belonging that motivates you to want to be a good part, a successful part, of that community.”

Slowly, the team began to improve. As Rutt realized that the team could be competitive, she knew something had to change for them to succeed. That change began with her mentality. Rutt transitioned from being admittedly uncompetitive to creating what she refers to as “an expectation to win.”

“Not just that we as coaches expect you to win, or, you know, the district expects you to win, but you want the players coming into the team to already have that expectation. I’m joining this team and I expect to be a winner and I expect that I will contribute to that winning record for the team,” Rutt explained.

New players joining the team helped to bring this expectation to the players who had grown accustomed to not winning.

“It took a couple years and having one or two really strong players that brought that mentality with them, and set that example. In a lot of ways it’s easier for a player to motivate other players than it is for a coach to motivate the players, in different ways,” Rutt said.

Team members celebrate and commemorate their first county championship in 2014. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

Team members celebrate and commemorate their first county championship in 2014. (Photo: Amanda Cain)

The expectation paid off. Rutt’s proudest memory as a coach is the first Berks County Championship her team won.

“At that point, it was a huge achievement, and it was still somewhat unexpected. Very much unexpected as far as anyone else in the county went, but even as far as us, there was definitely still some part of me that didn’t quite fully believe that we could do it or would do it,” Rutt said. “To see them achieve that, and to see how excited and how happy they were just with that, not even realizing how much more they would go on to achieve.”

Now, the team boasts back-to-back county and district championships, the county and district singles champion and the county double champions. The county singles and double championship matches boasted only Exeter players. Under Rutt’s guidance, the team has gone from unnoticed to unbeatable.

“People know we have a tennis team, for one thing,” Rutt said. “People come to see our matches, which never happened, other than parents. People start following our scores in the paper.”

The girls' tennis team has earned its own corner of the trophy case.

The girls’ tennis team has earned its own corner of the trophy case. (Photo: Ariane Cain)

The team has been recognized at school board meetings and football games. They’re garnering attention for more than just their ability to win, however.

Rutt’s focus on team building and having fun has created one of the tightest teams in the school.

William Cain, Exeter High School principal, is impressed with their development as a team, more than their ability to win.

“How they all pull for each other,” Cain said, when considering what has impressed him the most. “It’s almost as if being a team is more important for them than being winners.”

With numerous players graduating this year and next, the future of the team is uncertain. Rutt takes a stance that all sports teams need to understand when faced with a rebuilding period, and she hopes their fans will understand as well.

“No one’s gonna win forever, everybody has a down year,” Rutt said, but even if the team doesn’t reach the same level of greatness, they now know what is possible and Rutt now has an expectation to win.

« Older posts

© 2016 A. C. Cain

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑