Moving to a new city, sometimes hundreds of miles away from family and friends, can produce periods of loneliness and isolation for any teenager.
With a significant number of the Western Nevada College Wildcats softball roster coming from out the area, the softball team has launched a mentorship program to help make team members feel more at home, and provide them with additional guidance.
Earlier this month, the Wildcats started a community effort that will provide players with family-like support and, in turn, increase fan recognition and backing of the team.
â€œIt helps to make them more comfortable and feel more at home in our community,â€ said WNC Softball Coach Leah Wentworth. â€œSome of the mentors have offered to take the girls out and do. It just helps them to get away from the softball environment and let loose a little bit, and maybe experience some things in this area that they otherwise wouldnâ€™t have.â€
Wentworth said that Assistant Coach Bethany Henry-Herman suggested the mentorship program after being part of a similar one as a player at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif.
â€œShe felt like it was such a rewarding experience for her; the connections she made with her mentors still goes on today, and they were at her wedding,â€ Wentworth said. â€œIt is a small town, and I think people here are all somehow connected. If the word starts getting out and people become more aware, I think there should be a lot of benefits to the program, and I think it should be a rewarding experience for the mentors and hopefully equally as rewarding for the girls.â€
Henry-Herman said that her softball mentors, Jeff and Rita Hayes, became very close friends.
â€œThe mentoring program for me was more than a program; I gained lifetime friends/family from it,â€ she said. â€œMy mentors are two of the most important people in the world to me. There were many times they helped me through tough college times, and I can honestly say Iâ€™m a better person because of their guidance and support.â€
Wentworth, Henry-Herman and volunteer assistant Sam Herceg invited f 17 mentors for the 2014-15 season. The student-athletes met their mentors during a recent luncheon at the teamâ€™s new indoor practice facility. Prior to the luncheon, the players sent their mentors a letter of introduction, including information about their backgrounds and where they grew up.
â€œThey all had a great time at the luncheon, and it sounds like everyone made really strong connections with their mentors and are really excited about some of the things planned,â€ Wentworth said.
With more players than mentors, some of the mentors will associate with two players. Mentors might host student athletes for dinner once a month. Some of the players have already been invited to a popcorn and movie night, as well as bowling and ice skating outings.
â€œWe really put a lot of thought into which girls we were going to pair with which families because we knew everyone involved. I think we made some really greats fits because it seems they are connecting really well,â€ Wentworth said.
Kathy Bartosz, executive director of Partnership Carson City, said the mentorship program provides the players with additional community support.
â€œThe mentorship concept is great as it connects families and students within the community and is one more resource for these young people, one more set of eyes and ears to be there for them,â€ Bartosz said.
Bartosz said the program will also help families such as hers fill a void.
â€œHaving raised two boys who are both now living on their own, we have the time and miss the youthful energy,â€ she said. â€œWe have a feeling the two pistols we were assigned will keep us well-entertained. We are looking forward to time with them.â€
The new program has also enabled a local couple to reconnect with the team. Three years removed from the Wildcats, Cassie Vondrakâ€™s parents, Alan and Sherrilyn, decided to serve as mentors. Vondrak, who pitched for WNC in 2011, went on to play three seasons for Long Island University in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Several of the mentors have agreed to help the program in other areas as well, including the teamâ€™s annual fundraising run and locating grants that could benefit the program.
Wentworth said she is hopeful that the mentorship program will also develop more overall interest in the team, creating more of a home-field advantage against Scenic West Athletic Conference opponents.
â€œThe energy that the stands provide to the girls, particularly when they are full, is priceless. My girls seem to play better at home, particularly when thereâ€™s a lot people watching,â€ the seventh-year coach said. â€œWe are so far off-campus, and a lot of people donâ€™t even know we are here, so the more visibility we get, the more fans weâ€™ll get out to the games to watch how hard these girls are working and to see their level of play, the better.â€
One of the qualities of any good team is to become like a family on and off the field, Wentworth said. WNCâ€™s softball program has taken that successful characteristic to another level by extending its family to include many Carson City residents.
â€œThe individuals we chose for the program were all picked because we genuinely thought that these individuals would enjoy the girls just as much as the girls would enjoy them,â€ Henry-Herman said. It’s important as a student-athlete to be able to connect to someone or something outside of the typical daily routine of school, softball and family issues,â€.