During the weekend of Sept 28-29, the James Madison Softball team ventured south to Botetourt, Va., as it played in a special event that served as an honorarium on our nation’s veterans. JMU and five other division one teams played in the Virginia Military Appreciation Tournament as part of the fall softball schedule. It was the third straight season that JMU participated in the event at the Botetourt Sports Complex.
Joining the Dukes at the two-day tournament were teams from the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Radford, Liberty and Longwood.
“I first started with the tournament when I was at Radford,” JMU Softball Head Coach Mickey Dean said. “I met with a man named Jim Farmer and talked about how it would be nice to bring as many of the Division I softball teams in the state together and let them play. Jim came up with the concept of doing it as a military appreciation tournament, which I thought was a really nice added touch.”
For Dean and his team, the tournament it more than just getting an opportunity to practice in the fall against some of the state’s best teams. The chance to pay respects to the veterans is what makes it a truly special event.
“I think for us it is so important to so appreciation for all the things our service members do,” Dean added. “They go through so many things that we can’t even imagine. It is also really nice to see the kids look up into the stands and with all the things going on in the world, they get to see their fathers or grandfathers, who served in the military and appreciate their sacrifice. I think sometimes we forget that they are more than our parents, but they also served in one of the hardest jobs imaginable.”
Several members of the JMU softball team were representing family members over the weekend. Senior utility Catherine Clavin has three generations of family members who were in the military. Her great grandfather Columbkille Clavin was in the army while her grandfather (John Clavin), father (Joe Clavin) and aunt (Catherine Waite) were all in the Air Force. Senior shortstop Caitlin Sandy’s father (Danny Sandy) and grandfather (Daniel C. Sandy) are both retired from the Navy.
“Since my dad and granddad were in the navy, the tournament means even more,” Sandy said. “I love the opportunity to play for the ones who fight for our freedom, especially my father and grandfather.”
Other members of the JMU team with family in the military include sophomore catcher Erica Field. Both of her grandfathers, Paul Bernazani (Navy) and Bennie Field (Army), are retired from active duty while her Uncle Daniel Bernazani, who is also a JMU alumnus, is retired from the Air Force. Freshman outfielder Niki Prince has a pair of second cousins actively serving in the Army Medical Service Crop in Lt. Cols. Brian and Kathy Spangler. Two other freshman, outfielder Anna Baker and utility player Haley Jones both had fathers who served in the military. Baker’s father, Russ Baker, is a retired Navy Seal while Jones’ father, Harry Jones, is retired from the Marines.
As part of the weekend’s festivities, the Dukes sported camouflage jersey and hats out on the field in solidarity with the US service members. There was also a ceremony recognizing active and retired members of all service branches. Donations were accepted with proceeds going to support the Military Family Support Centers, Inc. Veterans received free admission to the tournament all weekend.
“The Virginia Military Appreciation tournament is such a worthwhile event,” Sandy said. “We get to play for a great cause. I love playing for all the men and women who have and still are serving our country.”
On the field, the Dukes went 3-1 in the tournament, picking up wins over Liberty, Radford and Virginia. The only loss came in a 1-0 result to Virginia Tech.
“The tournament is a great help to us because of the setting,” Dean said. “When you’ve got JMU, Longwood, Radford, UVA, Liberty and Virginia Tech at one tournament, you’re going to get a large crowd. It brings more intensity than you’d normally get during a fall ball game. It brings out just a little more adrenaline and with that a little more nerves, especially for our younger kids. We get an opportunity to see how they’re going to handle that in a more intense setting.”
Dean added, “The veterans were very appreciative of the event. Many of them sat right behind home plate and as I walked over to the coach’s box from the dugout they’d stop me and we’d talk for a bit. We had great weather, which brought out huge crowds and made it really fun.”