A fastpitch softball pioneer, Sonia Cook continues to impact girls sports

Sonia Cook has it all planned. She was retiring as a coach last year — there was even a retirement celebration at the softball park where several former players showed up — and then she taught last school year to complete 40 years as an educator. When she was gone, there was no doubt that she would be missed.

She then had a change of heart and decided to coach softball at Davenport during her senior year. This was a column about her retirement, but…well…it’s not going anywhere – at least for now.

There’s no doubt she meant a lot to her players, who raised money to send her on a cruise to Alaska. And the numerous posts from former players on a Facebook page created to honor Cook about how much she meant to them, rekindled her passion for coaching. With changes to the DROP program extending it from five to eight years in an effort to retain teachers, Cook, an Alabama native, recently decided to return to Davenport as a physical education teacher. She will also be coaching softball for at least another year.

Training myth:David Saliba’s legacy in Polk County baseball has not slowed down after four decades

Davenport High School girls softball coach Sonya Cook is the softball coach who completed her 40th year of coaching at Polk County in Davenport Florida.  Monday, April 29, 2024. Ernest Peters/Ledger

Sheesh – How will we miss you if you won’t go away. Cook will certainly be missed when she finally decides to retire for good.

Cook is one of the pioneers of fastball softball in Polk County and in high school girls’ sports in general. When I arrived at Winter Haven 40 years ago, there was no girls’ soccer, no girls’ weightlifting, no fast-paced softball, no girls’ golf, no competitive cheer, no girls’ powerlifting, no girls’ lacrosse, no beach volleyball, no soccer Flag foot, no girls. wrestling. The girls would run track or cross country and play basketball, tennis or volleyball and that was that.

At Winter Haven, she began coaching volleyball and also coached basketball briefly. Slow-pitch softball At USF, Cook joined Pete Harris’ group that pushed the FHSAA to add fast-pitch softball. When sports were added for the 1986-87 season, Cook started the Winter Haven Fastpitch Softball Program, one of three programs she started in Polk County. She started the Ridge Community program when the school opened in 2005, and then started the Davenport program when the school opened three years ago.

Cook, who coached Polk State from 2000 to 2005, is one of three coaches from the early years of fastpitch softball who still coach the sport, although they all took a break. Bartow’s Glen Rottenbar is back after a four-year layoff, and Nancy Denton, who started the Lake Wales program and then retired after the 2015 season, returned as an assistant a few years ago.

Davenport High School girls softball coach Sonya Cook is the softball coach who completed her 40th year of coaching at Polk County in Davenport Florida.  Monday, April 29, 2024. Ernest Peters/Ledger

So, just in softball, I’ve witnessed the growth of the sport, and I remember how in the first year in 1987 when Polk and Hillsborough only played fast pitch during the regular season but had to play slow pitch in the postseason. In the district tournament that year, Polk’s teams switched to slugger play to prepare for the district tournament. She remembers having to move her first baseman to pitcher because her pitcher couldn’t adjust from fast pitch to slow pitch.

“Needless to say, all of the Polk County teams struggled a little bit because of the obvious shooting differential,” she said. “It was like making changes all day long.”

Her Winter Haven game flourished in the early years thanks to a strong feeder system from the leagues, and she coached with the late Jack Vogt when he started Polk County’s first travel ball team, the Polk County Rebels, in the late 1980s.

“I learned a lot from him,” Cook said. “Training with Jack for a few summers has really made a difference in helping me see how teams develop players in terms of their fast-playing skills.”

Its program, Winter Haven, flourished in the 1990s as one of the all-time top teams. There was a wealth of talent even after Lake Region opened for the 95-96 school year and standouts were April Elston, Kara Klippel and Heather McCrimmon, all top players on Lake Region’s first state championship team in 1998 as well. As the runner-up team in ’97, Winter Haven remains one of the top teams. The Blue Devils had Final Four potential with players like Danny Reisinger, future North Carolina star Tiffany Tolleson, Kristen Reese, Laura Bickert, Kim Harvey, Anne-Marie Granger, and Amanda “Monk” Willard, among others.

“I had a team, but they took half of my great players and of course (Phil) Cheuning comes (to the Lake District) with his girls and pairs them with my players and wins a state championship,” Cook said. .

Despite the great talent, the Blue Devils were snakebitten during that stretch as they would have faced Lake Wales, Bartow or the Lake District and were unable to advance to the quarterfinals. In 1995, for example, Kelly Varnador threw a gem in the district semifinals but lost to Bloomingdale, which boasted one of the best pitchers in the state.

The toughest loss was in 1998. Winter Haven was on the verge of beating Bartow in the regional semifinals. The Blue Devils were leading 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning when Tollison hit a bunt but couldn’t complete a game-ending double play with a wide throw to second. Bartow then rallied with two outs.

“That’s part of getting out there and playing the game,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

It benefited from the multi-sport athletes that Winter Haven had at the time. She still coaches volleyball, and has led the Blue Devils to the district finals in consecutive years with softball stars Tolston, Reese and Pickert at the helm. Winter Haven lost to Cardinal Gibbons both years.

Although missing out on the state tournament may be disappointing, Cook still feels the most excitement in the educational aspect of coaching, especially when the players learn what she is trying to impart. For example, at Davenport this year, I told the players that on punts, there often won’t be a defender at third base, so the first base runner has to be alert and take advantage of going to third. When this happened in one game, the player felt excited because she went from first to third place on a curveball.

“She never slowed down and went to third in the stand,” Cook said. “She said, ‘Coach, I learned something. I learned something.’ I said: Yes, I did. I did well.'”

Most of her coaching career was at the high school level, but she left Winter Haven in 2000 to coach Polk State. After five years at Polk State, she returned to the high school game to start the Ridge program.

“Making the decision to leave was a difficult decision, but I always wondered if I had the knowledge and skill set to coach at the college level,” she said. “I didn’t really want to leave Polk County. … The reason I left Polk and went back to high school was because I missed teaching the game. The college is very recruiting.

Cook was a different coach when she started the Ridge program compared to when she started the Winter Haven program.

“The first high school fastball game I ever saw, I coached her,” she said. “I went to college playing slow pitches. I was smart enough to get an assistant coach who was picking up fast pitches, and she really helped me with the transition.”

Cook witnessed huge changes in athletics, especially the explosion of travel ball, which were beneficial to the sport but were not all good.

“There are some players who will spend more money playing travel ball, taking lessons, doing all of that than the college scholarship they’re working toward is worth,” she said. “If you add up all the hotels, gas, food, hotels, lessons, uniforms and equipment, they are spending more than the scholarship is worth.”

There’s also the burnout factor.

“When I was at Polk State, I had kids come up to me and say, ‘Coach, all I’ve done my whole life is play softball since I was 10 or something, and my parents wanted me to get a scholarship,'” Cook said. “Get a scholarship, get a scholarship.” And they say, “Now that I got it, I have nothing to work for and I don’t enjoy the game anymore.” So they will give up their scholarship. Some of them will stay in school but won’t even play. So I saw there was a lot of fatigue and a lot of overuse injuries. They use the same muscles all the time.

Volleyball and softball athletes were popular. Athletes like Reese and Tollison, who also played football, will be first-team all-district players in multiple sports. Now players like them or more recently are rare.

Cook said she played volleyball, basketball and softball growing up.

“You use different muscles when you play different games,” Cook said. “They push these kids to specialize, which leads to arm and knee problems.”

After all these years, Cook thought she was ready to call it quits. But the players who meant so much to her and to whom she meant so much made her change her mind.

“I just told them on Facebook, ‘You guys motivated me again,’” she said. “He renewed me. I will stay with him because I enjoy the players, I enjoy the sport.

She enjoys coaching the young players at Davenport, which is one of the reasons in the 1990s that she kept coming back to coaching even though she wanted to lighten her load and give up coaching volleyball.

So Cook will continue to have an impact on girls’ sports in Polk County, something Winter Haven athletic director Lydon Gibson has seen firsthand. Gibson played basketball for Cook in the 1980s at Winter Haven and was an assistant volleyball coach for a few seasons in the 1990s. She knows what Cook means to high school girls’ sports.

“It meant a lot because she touched so many lives through different sports,” Gibson said. “Coach Cook, I mean she’s just an icon, because you know she’s a great coach, she’s a great person. Even when I coached with her, she gets the best from her kids. She always gets the best from her kids. She doesn’t let them in and a half or I think I’m going to do this.” No, Coach Cook didn’t play that game, she was all or nothing, she always got the best out of him and then she made it fun.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected