Monday, 07 May 2018 07:01

Richmond softball player and her father host skills clinic in Ellerbe

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Sophomore Kayla Hawkins hits a ball during an infield drill during the softball skills clinic she hosted in Ellerbe on Saturday. Sophomore Kayla Hawkins hits a ball during an infield drill during the softball skills clinic she hosted in Ellerbe on Saturday. Photos courtesy of Kyle Pillar.

ELLERBE - After wanting to host a softball skills clinic for a long time for local players, Richmond Senior High School sophomore and current Lady Raiders first baseman Kayla Hawkins made her dream a reality Saturday.

Noting that she threw it together in about a week’s time, Hawkins held a free open clinic at Parsons Field in Ellerbe for girls ages seven to 14 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Her father, and former Xplosion travel ball coach Keith Hawkins, also offered his knowledge and instruction to the 31 players who attended the clinic.

Planned in part with the help of Ellerbe Parks and Recreation director Chris McLaughlin, the Hawkins spent Saturday trying to spark an interest in the sport to players from Ellerbe, Hamlet and Rockingham, while also wanting to give back to the community.

“Today was really good,” Kayla Hawkins said of the clinic. “All the girls did great. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I picked Ellerbe (to host) because I used to play rec ball here. I just wanted to help get these girls started out in the sport and learn some of the basics.”

Hawkins recruited the help of several current and former Lady Raiders players, including college players Carleigh Haywood (sophomore at Methodist University) and Makenzie Ward (freshman at William Peace University), as well as current Richmond varsity player Taylor Parrish and recent call-up Kearston Bruce. Also giving a hand were Tony Ward, father of Makenzie, and several other parents.

“We couldn’t have done this without a lot of community support,” Keith Hawkins said, also mentioning the support of his wife, Becky Hawkins, in getting everything together so quickly. “I didn’t know a lot about softball when Kayla started playing, but I was a fast learner. I started the Xplosion team in 2012 and coached it until 2016, and learned a lot from Danny Lampley (Richmond Thunder), Todd Butler and by going to college camps with Kayla.”

Keith Hawkins smiles as he works on catching drills with the younger age group.

Hawkins has had a great year for the Lady Raiders, who are currently projected as the No. 1 overall seed in the 2018 4A state playoffs. She’s batting with a .357 average, has smoked seven home runs and brought in 28 RBIs, while also holding down first base on defense. She attributes a lot of her success to starting out playing baseball with Ellerbe Parks and Rec.

As explained by Keith Hawkins, the clinic was also put on to try and encourage the growth of fast pitch softball not only at an earlier age, but also across Richmond County. With the sport’s interest trailing off locally the past couple of years, Hawkins explained he wanted to try and “get things going” again, and hopes the clinic and rec ball will “mesh through into middle school softball.”

Players of the two age groups (seven through 10, and 11-14) shared a field and worked on several different drills throughout the duration of the four and a half hour clinic. Ward, who pitches at William Peace, worked on pitching mechanics, while Haywood, who’s a shortstop at Methodist, spent time teaching players how to properly field ground balls and make good throws. Kayla Hawkins rotated from group to group, as her father worked on hitting drills off the tee and with soft toss.

The idea behind having the college and high school players help out was to serve as a visual as to what softball success looks like.

“The main goal about today’s clinic was to expose the girls to a bunch of different drills,” Keith Hawkins explained. “I wanted them to know the basics of the sport and to improve their softball IQ. All of the drills we did today are done at the college level. I also wanted to encourage the parents to see what they can do at home to help their girls.

“I wanted to be honest with our progress,” he continued. “This should help them (the players) know what to look for and what it takes to work their way up through playing softball. This skills clinic should give the girls a good chance at getting better.”

Makenzie Ward works on pitching mechanics during Saturday's skills clinic.

Also present during the first part of the clinic was Richmond County native and strength and conditioning specialist Robert David. Hawkins noted that David has worked with her over the last three years, focusing on her agility, mobility, strength and teaching her the right way to stay in shape. He worked with the clinic attendees, teaching them some pointers on footwork and speed.

McLaughlin, who is in his second year as Ellerbe Park and Rec’s director, expressed that Saturday’s clinic was a “great success” and hopes it “continues to grow and get better.” He also played a role in helping get food and drinks donated by Wal-Mart, Food King in Ellerbe and the Ellerbe Lions Club. Parents also chipped in to make sure all players had a complimentary lunch and plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

“It means everything to me that today was a success,” Kayla Hawkins concluded. “I wanted to give back, and the girls look up to us (as Lady Raiders players). So that was a part of the reason why I did it.”

In the future, both Hawkins, as well as McLaughlin, hope to see the skills clinic grow and become a regular event throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. Keith Hawkins said he’d love to “get the community more involved” and would be happy to “see it expand the sport across the county.”

Kayla Hawkins and the Lady Raiders have earned a first-round by in the NCHSAA state playoffs, and are scheduled to play later this week against a team and date to be determined, as the official brackets have not yet been released.

Last modified on Monday, 07 May 2018 08:24

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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