There’s an old saying in sports, players play and coaches coach.
That was certainly the case as Wilkes County’s 8-and-under softball team became the latest all-star team to bring home a North Carolina Tar Heel League state championship — the seventh softball title for Wilkes County since 2012 (before last season, the 12-and-under age group played in Little League where it had won two more during that span).
But after talking with Head Coach Roger Pilkenton at the Wilkes Journal-Patriot’s office last Wednesday, one other part of the team dynamic certainly deserves a share of the recognition credit.
“I told the girls that this is something we may or may not ever experience again but that we’re also going to have a good time, have fun. The parents turned out to be the most unbelievable group of parents that I’ve ever experienced before,” said Pilkenton. “We knew it was going to be an expensive trip but what amazed me was they got involved. They did fundraisers, handled raffles and I told them that the coaches will help the girls get ready to play and that your job is that any money that you can raise that will reduce the expense is going to be more than appreciated.”
A lot of those fundraisers were set up by the players and their parents in an effort to raise funds to offset the costs of traveling to Currituck, which is located a little more than five-and a-half hours away from Wilkes County in Northeastern North Carolina.
According to Pilkenton, the team raised $8,800 for the trip, which covered anything from lodging to gas for transportation.
In addition, the team had a banner (which ran on the Wilkes Journal-Patriot’s website last Tuesday with the team celebrating its championship) made by the Ragg Company that has all the businesses that sponsored or donated to their trip.
“They went into the county, the towns came together, individuals and business came together and rarely did they say no. At the end of the day, through our raffles, it was just businesses doing a community good deed,” said Pilkenton. “And the money raised took care of our rooms and gave them a little spending money for meals and gas. But to be able to go down there, with an ease that it’s not going to be a financial burden on anybody was so appreciated.”
The contributions of the parents on game day weren’t lost on Pilkenton. He mentioned that they were helpful not just with the players, but also the coaches.
With temperatures rising to near triple digits over the weekend, staying cool, whether it was with hydration or cooling towels — as Pilkenton needed after the first game — was of the utmost importance.
“The parents helped out a bunch on game days by bringing in waters and Gatorade, to name a few things, and it was just amazing to see how it’s supposed to be done,” said Pilkenton. “You’re concentrating on one small aspect of it, which everybody focuses on, but you don’t realize what’s going on behind the scenes. They were so good to all of us.”
One of the most impressive stats for Wilkes County on the field was that it struck out just seven times during the state tournament.
Wilkes did not strike out at all in two of the games — one of them being the winner takes all championship game against Wendell.
“What surprised me the most was the amount of times we struck out the entire tournament. In the district tournament, we struck out an average of six or seven times a game,” said Pilkenton. “In this league, if you make contact, you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting on and if you get on, there’s a higher percentage that you can score.”
Pilkenton felt some credit for Wilkes’ success at the plate should go to to Assistant Coach David Wayne, who made every pitch of both the district and state tournaments.
Jason Pilkenton and Andrew Cockerham also joined Wayne as assistant coaches.
“When we started practice for district, we had girls who were having a difficult time making contact and to see how they progressed, it was just mind boggling,” said Roger Pilkenton. “David pitched every pitch because I wanted them to have that confidence that when they go up there, they know exactly what he’s going to do and his style; we didn’t want to change that and I think that was such a contributing factor.”