PORTVILLE — Bill Torrey got the idea from the coaching staffs at Ellicottville and Cattaraugus-Little Valley.
He’d seen some of the videos that had popped up on social media, including the one curated locally by the Pitt-Bradford softball team. And so, amid another lost day on the spring calendar, the Portville varsity softball coach sent a text to his players:
“Do you guys want to put one of these together?”
The idea was to come up with their own version of the now-viral videos in which each team member, from home, finds a creative way to receive and then throw the ball to a teammate while creating the illusion that the ball is traveling from one player to the next.
The Panthers jumped at the chance, creating a 58-second video set to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that they posted on Monday with the caption, “Virtual practice, Portville softball style!”
It was a way to stay positive, and connected as a team, while continuing to be confined at home and facing the threat of a canceled season due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It was kind of like a (social media) challenge,” Torrey said. “I kind of got the ball rolling; our catcher, Mia Hlasnick, collected all the videos and did some of the directing there. It was nice, something they were excited about, to come up with good ideas and work together as a team even though we can’t be together physically.”
Portville, as with every other spring sports team across the board, remains mired in a state of uncertainty.
The Panthers, who’d have been in Myrtle Beach this week if things had played out as scheduled, are unsure of when they might be able to take the field again. They understand that with schools closed until at least April 29, their window for a 2020 season is quickly shrinking.
In the meantime, however, they’re doing their best to stay ready.
Torrey created a Portville softball account on Microsoft Teams, a unified communication and collaboration platform, as a way to hold online instruction. Through this program, he’s been able to schedule team meetings, display videos and “do some chalk talks.”
It’s all in an effort to help his players improve, regardless of what happens this spring, and in the hopes that, perhaps one of these days, good news might actually arrive.
“We’ve just been trying to stay positive,” said Torrey, whose teams have reached a Section 6 Class C championship game in each of the last three seasons, winning it both last year and in 2017, “keep in contact with the players, use technology to stream some videos on our different bunt defenses, have some online practice, so to speak.
“... just some of the nuts and bolts of the things that we can discuss that don’t require being in person, and just trying to find ways to stay positive and keep the girls hopeful that we might be able to have a season.”
The Panthers have also tried to remain as active as possible despite their limited ability at the moment. That’s included an at-home conditioning program, backyard drills and throwing plans for pitchers.
“Right at the beginning, when they first canceled school, we put them in contact with our strength and conditioning coach; Kelly Unverdorben (the varsity volleyball coach) handles a lot of those things,” Torrey said. “She had some workouts that she sent home with them. We’ve put them in contact with her … that way they can get into some of the individualized things from her — different strength and conditioning stuff through her, different drills and pitching regimens.”
Portville is set to return a stellar core from a team that went 15-7 and beat Chautauqua Lake for the Class C-1 title last year, including the battery of Brooke DeYoe and Hlasnick and key position players Karly Welty, Jillian Hlasnick and Faith Capito.
With another group capable of making a deep postseason run, Torrey remains optimistic … while also being pragmatic.
“Much like the girls, it’s a situation that’s out of my hands,” he said, “so I try to remain hopeful that we’ll be able to get back out there … the sooner, the better. (We’re) waiting to hear when the decisions will be made.”
And until there’s an outcome, Portville will continue to prepare as if a season, even an abbreviated one, will be staged, and attempt to stay connected through something fun, like its “virtual practice.”
“I had asked Mia if she had seen one or two of the (viral videos) that we had posted online,” Torrey recalled. “She said, you know, I think it keeps a lot of the girls hopeful that we’ll be able to have a season ... in some capacity.”