PSL West coaches strive to make teams more competitive
Coaches look to improve girls’ softball
By Harry M. Anderson, Jr.
Special to the Michigan Citizen
(Part one in a series)
DETROIT — Another season of girls’ softball has passed in the Detroit Public School League. Again, Renaissance and Cass Tech dominated their divisions, decimating their opponents.
Both squads met for the championship, and Renaissance beat Cass Tech for the PSL championship. The Phoenixes won their district in state tournament play only to fall in the state regional final, ending their blossoming season.
That has been almost the same scenario over the past several seasons.
PSL officials and coaches are looking to improve their league by finding the answers to the following questions: How can the Detroit PSL be on par with its suburban and Catholic League counterparts? Can the rest of the league catch up to Renaissance and Cass Tech? Western International, Mumford, Denby, East English Village are making strides, but how long will it take for them to be on par with the big two?
Don Wolan, head coach of Western International, and Garrod Taylor, head coach of Renaissance, shared their views on improving PSL softball and what they’re doing to make the league competitive.
“When I was the coach at Melvindale High, all the girls were sound on softball fundamentals,” Wolan said. “When I came to Western, most of the girls didn’t know certain procedure of play.
“The coaches before me didn’t take the time to teach the girls proper techniques. I broke things down and made it simple.”
Wolan says that it’s not that the kids can’t play, it’s that they didn’t know how to play. “Detroit has the athletes, but when it comes to skill and the fundamentals, the suburbs has the advantage,” he says.
According to Taylor, one of the things the suburban and Catholic teams have over PSL teams is the experience of the players.
“Most of the kids in the suburban and Catholic leagues play in summer leagues, play in tournaments during the regular season, attend clinics during the off-season and play travel ball,” he says. “If the city kids want to play better ball, they must enhance their skills. They just can’t work on softball from March to June; they must go beyond that period.”
Taylor does put his Phoenix softball squad in weekend tournaments around their PSL schedule. Most Saturdays, with help from some of the Renaissance parents, the team travels around southeast Michigan and even in the outstate portions of the state. Taylor said this gives the girls experience and an opportunity to see how other teams play.
As for skills, Wolan says he’s working on building pitchers for his Cowgirls squad. Thanks to the Western baseball squad, there’s an indoor baseball facility near the old Michigan Central Train Station where both baseball and softball teams work with fundamentals such as fielding, throwing, hitting, batting stance and, most of all, pitching. This is also held during the off-season, especially the winter months.
“We’re working on basic fundamental pitching skills,” Wolan said. “If we want to be competitive in our league and play against schools outside our league, we must accomplish this.”
Western holds their pitching clinics during the fall and winter. Students from other schools also participate.
“We have five eighth (graders) from Earhart and Holy Redeemer who are at our clinics. They’ll be at Western next year,” says Wolan. “We want to teach other schools’ kids how to pitch, not just Western kids. One of the pitchers from Cass Tech came to our clinics. We also run a pitching camp at Clark Park with the Clark Park Coalition. But again, I want to stress we want all kids from the PSL who want to improve their pitching skills.”
Taylor agrees that clinics are helpful. “Yes, our girls have to go to clinics to get better. Our girls have to learn how to pitch and get the proper equipment. We do need more indoor facilities in the city,” he said.
“Our girls also have to play more softball and watch more games. By watching a game at Wayne State and/or Detroit Mercy, our girls can pick up on a few things to improve their game. They also must watch softball on TV via the Big Ten Network, which shows plenty of softball games.”
Both coaches also agreed on one thing the PSL badly needs: a steady flow of players from a feeder system via the middle schools.
“We need a feeder system that steadily sends kids to our high schools,” Wolan said. “When you don’t have a steady feeder, you won’t have a successful program.”
“We need this if we want the PSL to step up to the next level,” Taylor agreed. “If we want our girls to win the state championship and get college scholarships, we must do this to raise the skill level of our teams. The team we lost to in the regional final, Garden City, had girls on their team playing since they were 9, 10 or 11 years old. They also play on travel squads and summer leagues.”
There are some feeder programs such as Rosedale-Grandmont Association, Think Detroit PAL, Healthy Kidz and Legends League. Wolan and Taylor feel the coaches and the associations must network with each other to keep the steady flow of experience players into the Detroit PSL.
Wolan says there are some outstanding coaches in the PSL, not just at Renaissance and Cass Tech but at Mumford, Henry Ford, Communication Media Arts, King, Denby, Osborn and East English Village. He said the league must make sure they stay to establish their systems to build better teams.
“These coaches must be there for a long period of time to develop a system that the girls can learn and grow from,” says Wolan. “This will strengthen the league. If you keep changing coaches, nothing can be established.”