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The Madison Record
Current and former players of the Sparkman High softball program met for 90-minutes as part of a new Mentors Program drawn up by head coach Lindsay Vanover. Photo Contributed

Sparkman Softball Mentor Program Begins A Tradition

HARVEST- The Sparkman High softball program is one of the top organizations among girls’ athletics in all of Alabama high schools. With 10 appearances in the state finals since 2006, winning six state titles, the Lady Senators continue to make strides to be even more dominant in their quest for perfection.

Second-year head coach Lindsay Vanover is busy prepping for the 2023 season and she looked to former players to help excite the upcoming players in a way which could propel the squad to victories and make for future prominent women in the community. Vanover reached out to members of the team alumni to return to the school and sit down face-to-face with current players and speak with them on how to be better women, help them learn to face adversity by offering wisdom and knowledge each athlete may need at the next level of softball, as well as, life advice and how to live with gratefulness.

“We had a 90-minute conversation and each alumni player came prepared to share their own personal stories of playing softball at Sparkman and challenge our current players to be good student-athletes and prepare for tomorrow’s life,” said Vanover.

“I learned how a team effort and bonding as a team will take you far in the sport and in life,” said Hannah Al-Dijaili, a freshman for Sparkman. “Each of the alumni spoke of always taking pride in everything they do, especially for playing softball at Sparkman.”

T.J. Webster, a Sparkman graduate in 2019, is a senior at Western Kentucky where she will graduate in December with a degree in exercise science and looks to earn a master’s degree in Intercollegiate Athletic Administration. She’s a middle infielder for her softball team and understands she’s about to face life after softball. She understood before arriving Coach Vandiver wanted a different perspective on playing softball and to share their experiences on how much softball meant.

“I told them there’s a lot of blood and tears that were poured into the Sparkman program and we were told by our head coach Dale Palmer to leave a legacy and to leave the program in better condition than when we got there,” said Webster.

Taylor Davis, a fifth-year student-athlete at Western Kentucky and All-Region outfielder for the Hilltoppers, is scheduled to graduate next summer in exercise science with a 3.5 grade point average. She took to college after graduating from Sparkman in 2018. She saw current players who were wide-eyed at what they were hearing from those attending five alumni players.

“I truly believe they wanted to hear what we had to say and for some it was like culture shock,” said Davis. “I spoke on I only have a few days remaining in college softball and soon it will be over, so I have built relationships through softball that I don’t take for granted.”

“I saw how the alumni players were friends and bonded through the softball team and we should be better at that, and we should be more about the team and not about individual aspects of the game,” said junior third baseman for Sparkman Kailey Hardin. “We’re making sure we know each of our players are doing as some may be going through a tough time. You never know what they are going through.”

Most of the alumni players who attended were headed back to their respective schools for fall classes and took a short detour to their former school on Jeff Road in Harvest to not only meet the current Senators’ team, but to reminisce about their years for a super-power program.

“I played both softball and basketball at Sparkman and knowing I had friends among the teams helped me go further in college,” said Webster.

“This summer I worked for the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) and we went to Sparkman for a “popsicle blast” where we gave the team a talk and a popsicle,” said Davis. “We got back in touch with Coach Vanover about returning. We worked to find others who could take the time to visit with the current Sparkman team. Once here, I spoke on how wearing a Sparkman uniform comes with pride. We earned it, because we worked hard.”

For Al-Dijaili, listening to former players was sort of a thrill. She added, “I’ve always played softball because my dream was to play at Sparkman as the idea of playing with the program was always something special. I knew two of the returning players for several years and I’ve seen them as people I looked up to.”

One alumni player spoke of how she was actually kicked off the team her senior season. She returned to softball in college and spoke on how she has matured through softball and the Sparkman program was very special to her.

The alumni spoke on having pride in their school, being a leader, having accountability of their actions and the benefits of having a tough coach. They leaned into the thoughts of how to handle failure on the softball field, which leads to handling failures in life.

“I’ve asked the alumni to be more involved with my team,” added Vanover. “This is a great way to start a mentor program.”

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