Varsity softball season strikes out: Panther challenge implemented to connect community

Get To Know The Varsity Softball Team

The upper school varsity softball team started preseason in late February, but their practices came to an end the week of March 9 when Head of School Elizabeth English announced in a school-wide email that, starting March 16 “students will not come to campus” due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

At first, the future of the softball season was unclear, but Athletic Director Kim Smith announced April 12 that CIF and the PBL had officially canceled the spring sports season. The cancelation, she wrote, happened because of the extension of mandatory stay-at-home orders through May 15.

Before the season finished, the team had a two-game non-league winning streak, according to a community-wide email sent by Smith on March 8. The softball team’s next preseason game was scheduled for Friday, March 13, against the Windward School, but Windward declared their closure in response to COVID-19 earlier in the week, canceling the game.

“Game after game was canceled,” pitcher Mikayla Weinhouse (’22) said. “It’s hard to believe the season is truly over — we didn’t even get the chance to have a team sleepover.”

Although the official Archer season has been canceled, Coach Smith has communicated with the girls and reassured them that she is working on providing an alternative softball season.

“Coach Smith isn’t someone who will give up easily; she is somebody who will definitely try and do everything in her power to ensure that we still have some sort of a season,” Weinhouse said.

That alternative season came in the form of the Panther Challenge, which Smith announced in an athletics update sent last week.

“[Athletes] will be competing in fun, spirited, goal-oriented challenges with your teammates that will make you stronger, more fit, more connected, sharpen your competitive mindset, and inspire you to keep reaching!” Smith wrote in a COVID-19 (coronavirus) athletics update email sent April 12.

The Panther Board includes supplemental opportunities for softball athletes to improve team connectivity, mental health, and physical fitness. Instead of a traditional softball season, athletes are participating in the Panther Challenge, which has teammates compete in challenges and work on activities that are supposed to increase their physical strength and team bond.

The varsity softball team will be split into three groups, each lead by a team captain: Victoria Pinkett (’20), Siena Mizel (’20) and Kimberly Tuxpan (’20).

“I know that all of the captains have been meeting with their teammates, creating a team name and [using] this as an opportunity to foster team spirit,” Pinkett said.

The Archer Athletics Instagram feed, @archerathletics, hosted an Instagram live to further explain this new program. Teams are also asked to compete in other challenges assigned by Smith each week to help them maintain basic conditioning and bond with the rest of the Archer athletes. These challenges can be anything from 50 burpees to a sports-themed Netflix Party. The Panther Board provides in additional opportunity for teams to participate in the Panther Challenge, and the dynamic set-up is styled to resemble a bingo board, where teams are competing to fill in five squares per week, all related to fitness, mental health and bonding.

“I think the point is just to kind of emulate the team environment that we’re not able to have right now through camaraderie and just pushing ourselves physically,” Mizel said. “Some of the prompts are ‘Write five positive affirmations’, ‘Come up with a good team playlist’ and then there are others like ‘Do a five-minute wall sit.’ It is a balance in trying to keep what semi normalcy would be going on at practice but at home.”

Despite attempts to normalize remote learning, the time-honored Archer Athletics senior night tradition was postponed. Once the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) gives the okay to gather in groups, the varsity softball team is organizing to meet and celebrate the seniors before they leave for college.

“It sucks. I’ve been looking forward to senior night pretty much my whole softball career,” Mizel said. “I love this team. I love this sport. So it stinks to have it taken so quickly. I had no idea that the last game I played in was my last one, but I don’t think I would have done anything differently.”

Weinhouse and the rest of her teammates are using these circumstances as a learning experience and a motivator for future seasons.

“It makes you realize how much you have to make each moment count and continue to put in the work,” Weinhouse said. “Be prepared to make the most out of any opportunity you get and leave it all out on the field. It goes to show how quickly a season can end without you even expecting it.”

Above is a slideshow featuring the members of the varsity softball team for the 2019-2020 season. The interviews took place before the season was suspended.

Correction Statement (April 27, 2020, 11:06 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that the Panther Board was the primary part of the Panther Challenge. The article has been revised to reflect that the Panther Board is rather a supplemental facet of the challenge, which includes many other competitive pieces assigned weekly.