Team looking to help in OklahomaTwin Ports Rampage will play less than 10 miles from tornado damage
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
On May 20, the Twin Ports Rampage youth softball team was busy finalizing plans for its trip to the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Oklahoma City Challenge.
The atmosphere was bright as the team looked forward to a week of warm weather in Oklahoma.
Then the first reports came of a massive tornado in Moore, Okla.
“You’re not expecting something like that,” said Stewart Goldberg, team manager. “I didn’t even know how to react. It’s horrible.”
The Rampage were in the middle of their meeting when they learned of the EF5 tornado just south of Oklahoma City. Goldberg said there was a moment of stunned silence in the room.
“We’re watching on the big screen during our meeting the tornado footage over and over again,” he said. “I can’t even imagine. I’ve never been near anything like that. Living up here you complain about the cold, but you’re not going to complain about the cold when people are losing their homes and their lives.”
In all, the disaster killed 24 people, a third of them school children. Thousands of homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed.
Organizers confirmed last week that the USSSA Oklahoma City Challenge would go on as planned, but Goldberg said most teams were determined to go whether they played softball or not.
“So many teams have volunteered to come down and help out that they’ve now got it lined up where we should go, what they need and so on and so forth,” Goldberg said.
For the past week, teams have organized fundraisers and collected donations to help with relief efforts. Other teams plan on toting supplies like bottled water, batteries and non-perishable food items with them on their trip.
The Superior softball team plans to ferry relief supplies to those affected by the tornado. More than 40 people have signed up for the trip to Oklahoma — players, coaches, parents and grandparents — but Goldberg said room will be made on the bus to carry aid supplies.
For the players, the trip has become about more than just playing softball.
“I feel like even if we (didn’t) play, we should still go down there and support the people because of what they’re going through,” said Makenzie Stariha, 14. “It’s such a big tragedy. I know if it would have happened here, I would want people to come and help us too.”
Members of the Rampage softball team are: Lanie DeMeyer, Brandie Goldberg, Lexi Johnson, Mackenzie Kmecik, Natalie Noble, Erika Olson, Jordyn Olson, Madysen Stariha, Makenzie Stariha, Erin Thompson, Allie Thul and Hannah Thul.
The Rampage will be playing softball about 5½ miles from where the tornado hit, Goldberg said, but the facility was not damaged by the storm.
“This tournament is so big they’re using seven different complexes,” Goldberg said. “One of the complexes took an indirect hit and there’s some damage, but they think they can get it repaired.”
More than 200 teams are expected for the Oklahoma City Challenge, plus another large group for the 2013 NCAA Women’s College World Series.
The Oklahoma City Challenge softball tournament runs Friday through Monday. The Women’s College World Series, also held in Oklahoma City, begins Thursday and runs through June 5.
Lexi Johnson, 14, said she looked forward to the tournament in Oklahoma, but the Rampage have a goal beyond playing softball now.
“We’ll be happy to come and help the people,” Johnson said.
Goldberg said he isn’t quite sure how the Rampage earned an invite to the Oklahoma City Challenge. The team played in a USSSA open tournament near the end of the year, and Goldberg thinks that may have been they key.
“We played Elite level, which we’ve never played before,” Golderg said. “We’re a B team — it goes B, A and then Elite. We played just to get some more games in and to see what the best of the best look like.”
The Rampage ended up doing well, and when Goldberg returned home he found an invite to the Oklahoma City Challenge waiting for him in his e-mail.
“With the Women’s College World Series there, we all wanted to go and do it,” Goldberg said. “I’ve been planning on going there to watch it anyway for years.”
The Rampage played in a national 12U softball tournament last season and hope to do so again this year at the 14U level. Goldberg said the Rampage will be one of the younger teams competing in 14U softball this season, but they’ve worked all winter to prepare.
The Rampage made use of their practice facility in the Mariner Mall again this year, and Goldberg set expectations high for his players. He told them he’d like each one to practice 20 times more apiece than they did last year during the winter season.
“Every single one of them accomplished their goal,” Goldberg said. “This winter I counted out of 160 days we practiced 117 of them.”
“We had scheduled days, but you could come in extra days in you wanted to,” said Hannah Thul, 13. “A lot of people came in every day they could just to get practice in.”
Practices lasted two hours each day, and players also attended a few offseason clinics.
Kmecik, 15, said the girls stayed motivated by thinking about the strong competition the Rampage would face during the spring and summer. The team will get its first test at the Oklahoma City Challenge.
“We’re expecting tough teams, but we’re hoping that we practiced hard enough,” Makenzie Stariha said. “We know that we worked really hard, so we hope that it will play off.”
The Rampage open play on Saturday with a 6 p.m. game against the St. Louis Stingers (Mo.) and then play the DC Jaguars (Colo.) at 9 p.m.
On Sunday the Rampage face the LS Bombers (Mo.) at 4:30 p.m. and the Oklahoma Legacy at 6 p.m.
Bracket play begins Monday.
For the Rampage, the game in Oklahoma will be among the first they’ve been able to play outdoors this season.
“We’ve already been snowed out at one tournament in Iowa — in May,” Goldberg said.
The team was supposed to play in a World Series qualifying tournament on May 4, but the event was snowed out. The Rampage were also rained out of two tournaments and played nearly all of their other games in domed facilities.
“We got two games in on the dirt, and it was 40 degrees, raining and windy. So not ideal situations by any means,” Goldberg said.
The prospect of five guaranteed games in the warm Oklahoma weather sounded like paradise to the Superior players, but their perspective has changed since the May 20 tornado.
“We’re past that point of worrying about whether we’re playing or not,” Goldberg said. “It’s going to be a good experience for them no matter what.”