Feature by Dylan Garner
Two at a time, members of the JMU baseball team went down into push-up position. The team was split in two, labeled White and Gray. Unlike previous years, this exercise wasn’t just to prepare for the spring season. It was a fierce competition.
10, 20, 30.
Some players chose to keep it slow and consistent. Others went at a rapid-fire pace to outrace their opponent — as well as their own bodies’ fatigue.
40, 50, 60.
As the pressure began to build in the athletes’ arms, their peers started to grow louder and louder. Every break was met with a sign of intense encouragement from their squad. Outbursts of “Come on,” “Let’s go” and “One more” quickly filled the gym. Some started counting each push up in unison.
70, 80, 90.
When junior Chad Carroll was approaching his limit, his teammates slowly counted to triple digits, pushing Carroll after every struggle back up. After he hit the ground, assistant Jason Kuhn reported the final tally.
“Ninety-nine,” Kuhn said.
The team exhaled in disappointment after one of Carroll’s push ups was discounted, but he was met with congratulation and cheers. The day of conditioning and competition wasn’t over yet for the baseball team, but the effect this simple contest had on them already was apparent.
This contest was part of the final day of competition between the two squads that started near the beginning of the semester. Each day is designed to prepare each player for the season, push them beyond their limits and to bring them together with the use of a competitive atmosphere.
“"It was just a matter of seeing some of the will that goes into these events more than anything else,” assistant coach Ted White said.
White adapted the semester-long challenge from one of the schools he had previously coached for. The events he tested the players with included the “Miracle Mile,” a weave up and down Bridgeforth Stadium, a medicine ball toss/race and a two-man sled push, where the mental and physical capabilities of each player were tested to the extreme.
Sweat wasn’t the only thing being produced out in the field.
“That was the first time we had someone throw up in the challenge," White said.
Seniors Nick Merullo and Trent Cundiff, members of the White team, went into the competition blind to what exactly the experience would be like. This competition had replaced the traditional workout patterns of the past, and it left both physical scars and mental toughness early on.
"You were pretty deadbeat,” senior Trent Cundiff said. "We were crawling through stuff, we had cuts, we were bleeding, we were panting. But it was one of those things once you're finished everyone's happy they did it. It was step one of bringing everyone together."
The idea that somebody comes out a winner helped many of the players stay motivated to win. Carroll said that the various exercises will translate directly to the field because of how much it makes people understand the importance of winning.
Senior Ty McFarland agreed.
"I think the Gray/White competition just helped us focus on the small details of winning,” he said. “Everyone can focus in the ninth inning, but if you can't focus on innings 3 through 6 then you're not going to win."
Along with the physical challenges over the last couple months, players were encouraged to improve themselves outside of the diamond and gym as well. Study hall sessions and donations to community were done to round out the players as productive students and leaders in the area. Each team earned points for every study hall attended and every donation to Open Doors, which provides help to local people living homeless.
White said that the stricter-than-normal schedule will help add some discipline beyond just the challenges of the events and objectives themselves.
"I want them to be able to look back and see that when they had a good deal of structure in their life and they were held accountable, that everything they had to accomplish seemed a little easier," White said.
On Saturday, Nov. 16, Merullo and Cundiff were named team captains for the upcoming season. However, it wasn’t all good news as leaders of the White team.
"The Gray team won," Merullo said.
"Unfortunately," Cundiff added.
Regardless of who came out the winner, the team agreed that it puts them ahead of the game for the upcoming season.
“I think it just helps just bring the team closer together as a unit. We’re not the only team out there running and lifting weights,” Merullo said. “There’s 200 teams in Division 1 that are doing that and they have the same goals as us: Winning a conference tournament, making a regional and making an impact in the NCAA tournament. But doing different events like this, there’s a lot of team-building in it, it builds mental toughness — a lot of elements that can get overlooked. It does a good job bringing us together as a unit.”