---- — By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
It's not unusual in youth sports to glance down the list of coaches and see everyone shares a name with a player on the team. Parents coaching youth sports is nothing new.
But when Bill Brennan, manager of the River Valley Valkyries Amateur Softball Association team, had his team put together, he decided that he didn't want any parents on his coaching staff.
Instead, he brought in a coaching staff that knows about sports.
Ty Keefer, son of current Milton softball head coach Bill Keefer, in addition to two former Milton athletes -- basketball standout Samantha Hare (2008-2011) and softball star Kelley Pfleegor (2006-09) -- agreed to help Brennan coach his ASA team.
"(They) had success in the Milton program and would be good role models," Brennan said. "If it wasn't for them, I don't know if we'd have this success. The girls really bonded to Sam and Kelley, and that's helped."
That success the Valkyries had this season has them playing for the 18-and-under ASA Eastern National championship, starting July 24 in Canton, Ohio. The Valkyries earned a berth to the Eastern National championships after winning the state final in Sunbury. The Eastern National championship lasts four days, ending July 28.
"It's more of a reward for the girls for hard work. Our pitchers and catchers have been working since January as a group and really, this is a travel tournament for them to kind of have fun as a group," Brennan said. "Any success we have at nationals is a plus. We're not going there with the idea that we can win nationals. I'm sure we have a good shot at it, but it's a reward for the girls."
Milton's Bethany Brennan is one of the few who has experience at the national level, going that far the past two summers in ASA.
The Valkyries consist of numerous talented area softball players, including three District 4 HAC-I all-star selections. Those area players include Milton's Taylor Batman (HAC-I second-team), Peyton Phillips, Mary Adams, Bethany Brennan and Kate Genzel, Shikellamy's Courtney Lahr and pitcher Kelsey Zimmerman and Mifflinburg's Mackenzie Noll and Kayla Kline (both HAC-I second-team selections).
All but three of the 12 players on the Valkyries represent the Valley area. Noll played alongside Brennan last year for a Danville ASA squad.
While everyone on the team plays a role, two of them -- Adams and ex-Shikellamy athlete Mackenzie Haines -- have been an integral part of the Valkyries' run.
"The two of them kind of helped those two groups (mesh)," Bill Brennan said of the players from different schools playing together. "(Haines is) just a super kid. She was a Valedictorian, state bowling champ (and) she's one of those kids that can do things and do things the right way. She's been a great influence. ... She's one of the reason's we've been doing as well as we've done this year."
Another reason for the team's success is from the improved pitching of Batman, a junior this past season at Milton High School. Batman hadn't pitched prior to this year in high school due to being behind Milton standout Kristi Weaver for two years and didn't play ASA softball last summer.
"I think I have become much better than when I started," Batman said. "I practiced all winter long last year and in the summer and it's now paying off."
Brennan attempted to get Batman on to a team in a fall league to get her some actual batters to pitch against seeing as she hadn't thrown all summer. Unfortunately, Brennan couldn't get her on any teams, so he took a different route.
"I just decided if no one's going to put her on a team, I'll have my own team. So that's basically how it went," Brennan said.
That, coupled in with a handful of Milton players, led the push for their own ASA squad.
"(Batman) was probably part of the reason this team was started: her, my daughter (Bethany) and others. She was one of first to sign on," Brennan said. "We started putting this group together last September during optional fall workouts. They just got a group and we basically had our team together by January."
The Valkyries originally was planned as just a Milton team before Brennan talked to Bill Keefer to help fill in some gaps of his team.
"I was looking for a pitcher and catcher and asked if he (Keefer) had anybody that fell under the radar, and he mentioned a couple from Shikellamy High School because their program had kind of been struggling but they had a couple good players here and there," Brennan said. "Last year, their freshman pitcher and catcher did a good job, so I invited both of them to play for us."
The Valkyries not only gives players a chance to continue playing softball after the high school season ends, but also gives an opportunity for the players to play alongside those they played against just a few months prior.
"It's fun to all play together," Batman said.
"(Just) the experience with other people and what we do (together on and off field)," Bethany Brennan added.
Each player's unique skill set is what's helped the Valkyries reach the national level.
"Just a lot of different girls with different abilities (has been the key to our success)," Batman said. "They all have their (own) strengths and all have strengths together to make us better (as a team)."
It's a great accomplishment for the 12 Valkyrie players just to get to the ASA Eastern National level, and winning it all isn't necessarily the main objective. Rather, just having fun is what it's all about.
"That's what we want to do," Batman said. "As long as we have fun (that's all that matters)."