Saturday, March 16, 2013
This year's upperclassmen in North Augusta High School's baseball program may have a leg up on their competition, largely because they've spent about a decade together.
Five of this year's players - seniors JoJo Higgenbottom, Zach Jarvis, Jake Nelson and Russell Scaggs and junior Bryson Conner - were part of the initial group of players comprising the North Augusta Stingers, a travel team established in 2002.
Jake McCormick and Zach Wilson joined the team about two years later, and are also seniors this year.
Coming aboard as Stingers later were five of the Jackets' current juniors: Drew Huskey, Ryan Hammond, Taylor Wright, Chaz Davey and Corbin Lutier.It started when the players were 7 years old, JoJo recalled."We went all around the state, playing tournaments," he said, naming Lexington and the Greenville area as common destinations. "We'd start in February and just go through about when school started."
Kevin Scaggs, Russell's dad, noticed about a decade ago that travel baseball was accelerating as a trend. Kids who played more games, he confirmed, "seemed to be getting better at a more accelerated rate."
He and Sheldon Higgenbottom, JoJo's dad, helped establish the team and occasionally sought guidance from the high school's coaching staff.
Scaggs noted that while kids who played solely through the North Augusta Department of Parks, Recreation and Leisure were playing 15 to 20 games a year, kids on travel teams were getting at least twice that many. They also had the option of playing in the fall.Victor Radcliff, the high school's head baseball coach, noted that the Stingers help provide his program with a boost similar to the one being enjoyed by Dan Pippin, the Jackets' head football coach. In both sports, kids who are just beginning to explore the game get exposure to some of the same drills that they will face later, in high school, so the terminology and fundamentals already are in place by the time a player completes middle school.
"When we have tryouts, we look for kids with athleticism and fundamentals. Some of the time, you may have to work on some rough spots, but at least ... they basically know the proper way to catch the ball and throw it, so that means a lot," Radcliff said.
"It helps a lot," JoJo said. "Whenever you play with somebody like that, all the way through, it helps with chemistry when you know somebody and trust them."
The team's name, he said, was meant to provide a direct link to the Yellow Jackets theme.
Scaggs pointed out that one of the goals was to avoid doing any damage to North Augusta's rec-league system. The kids still took part in rec ball, he noted.
On top of that, the Stingers would play in "probably six or seven tournaments during the spring and summer, and then your rec-league all-stars played in the June-July time frame. After that, we were done," he said, noting that the kids were clearly tired at that point.
"We tried, one time, to play in the fall, and it was so ugly," he said. Team dads decided to scrap the fall action and told their kids to "go play football."
Some of those original players wound up going to other high schools, including Fox Creek and Silver Bluff, but five are now on board as Yellow Jackets for their final campaign in high school.
"I liked our model," Scaggs said. "I still like it. It was a close group. ... We stuck together, and it was a lot of fun. I kind of miss those days."