Courtney Gilbert, a recent NCAA graduate and former Team Canada member,
is bringing her love and skills for fast pitch to the Springfield club
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
By Rob J. Ross
SPRINGFIELD, ON - Courtney Gilbert remembers her early days learning how to play fast pitch.
Now the career for the former Team Canada member and recent NCAA graduate has come full circle.
Gilbert was out teaching Under-10 girls various aspects of the game, including pitching, base running and fielding ground balls, at a clinic for the Springfield Brewers on Saturday.
"It reminds me of when I was younger," said Gilbert, a Delhi native who recently moved to St. Thomas. "I look at them and think this is me when I was nine years old. It's nice to see kids where I started. When I was younger I had role models I looked up too and if I could do that for somebody else that's huge. That's what I want to bring to these girls and the program."
Gilbert brings much experience to the young Brewers, including leading the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) Titans to a NCAA Horizon Conference title, in May. Gilbert also represented Canada with the National Women's Elite team, the junior National team and travelled with the Senior National team.
"When you love the game, it can take you places. I got the opportunity to travel all across North America and play for Canada."
The recently turned 22-year old made her coaching debut this summer with the Brewers' bantam girls.
"I knew when I finished school I really wanted to give back to a small community like I grew up playing for," said Gilbert, who played her youth softball in Brantford. "I loved it. The girls were really buying in to what I was telling them and you could tell they really enjoyed being around. Making a difference in them, not only affecting their softball career but also shaping their lives a little bit, it's rewarding."
Brewers build towards next level
Having Gilbert on the coaching staff strengthens what the Brewers organization can offer young players.
"We're trying to get the word out the there (about the U10 team) and bringing in a former National team member, a NCAA athlete, to get some awareness that we got that in our program," said Brewers' president Mark McCallum on the clinic. "Just trying to build all aspects of the developmental stages."
This year, the Brewers offered U10 to U19 girls' teams and boys' U10, U12 and U16 teams, most playing in the Grand Valley League. The tier one teams had tournaments and exhibition games.
"This year we definitely pushed our teams to the next level, trying to offer tier one, which doesn't normally happen in small centres," explained McCallum. "We're in the building stage getting to that highest level."
The Brewers are a growing organization in a sport that is strengthening.
"As far as the kids go, it's (fast pitch) in a really good spot. The Ontario Amateur Softball Association (OASA) and Softball Ontario have done a really good job of building and promoting the game," says Mark, whose playing career included Belmont and Aylmer in the former St. Thomas and District League (STDFL) and Sweburg, in the Tri-Counties League.
"The opportunities for the boys for Team Ontario and Junior men's National team are way better than when people my age were playing. The future is bright for the sport."
Meg McCallum's silver with Stittsville
Springfield teams had varied success and some tough draws at this year's provincials. The U16 bantam girls were in a pool with the eventual provincial gold and bronze medalists. Those two teams, Brampton and Stittsville, went on to win gold and silver, respectively, at the Eastern Canadian championships, in late August.
The Brewers were represented, as Meg McCallum, a hard throwing pitcher, was picked up by Stittsville.
"It was super high level and fast paced. I had fun. It was very high level ball. I liked that," said Meg, a Grade 10 student at East Elgin Secondary school and graduate of Summer's Corners elementary. "It is the coolest thing I've done. It was super cool that out of all the pitchers they saw, they picked me to go with them."
Meg saw action in all but two games and at the plate learned some tips on various ways to bunt.
Gilbert an All-Conference player
For Gilbert, who will coach Springfield's midget girls next year, there are many memories from her collegiate and Team Canada days to share.
The shortstop finished her collegiate career leading UDM to their first NCAA appearance after winning the Horizon Conference, a tournament the Titans entered ranked seventh.
Earning All Conference Team and All-Tournament Team honours, Gilbert hit .309 for the season, with eight home runs and 32 RBIs. Her average to .417 in the post season.
"It was huge and a big experience for us (UDM). That was the legacy we tried to leave in the program. We really did work our butts off for it and it was awesome to have the turn around in the end," Gilbert said. "It's learning to play for something bigger than yourself. When you're part of a great team, you really play for the people next to you. It's more than a game. It's part of your life and it changes you. You meet people who become your life long friends."
Following her graduation from Delhi District secondary school, it was one year at the University of Buffalo before transferring to Detroit.
Named First Team All-Horizon League her sophomore season, Gilbert led the Titans in most offensive categories and ranked in the top five for the Horizon League in batting average (.405), hits, doubles, triples, RBIs and total bases, earning her First-Team All Horizon honours.
Gilbert was selected to the National Elite team in 2017 for the Canada Cup, in Surrey, B.C. and travelled with the senior National team that same year, to the World Cup of Softball, in Oklahoma City.
In her final season this year at UDM, Gilbert was named First Team All-Horizon League and Horizon League All-Academic, leading the Titans in several offensive categories including RBIs (33).
Gilbert studied developmental psychology at UDM with a minor in leadership. She is currently working towards her Masters of Applied Disability Studies at Brock University.