The players known as the nicknames of Killer, Ballerina, Lil’G32 and “The German,” must now wait and watch the scoreboard to see if Rockwell’s softball team will be a spectator when the state 2A softball tournament begins on May 11.
If North Summit beats St. Joseph on Tuesday, their season is over and if that is the case they can walk away knowing they’ve had a ball.
Whether the team is on the giving or receiving end of a close victory or defeat, Rockwell coach Troy Gifford has found a way to find the right chemistry that is the envy of other teams competing for a state title.
Gifford’s job is uniquely different than that of many coaches. Winning is only part of the equation. He must strike a balance between self-esteem building, player development, fun and focus. That combination is the reason why a successful businessman devotes so much of his time coaching basketball and softball.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to get to state,” Gifford said. “But when the grandmother of one of my players comes up to me and tells me what I’ve done for their family and for their granddaughter by giving her the chance to be a part of something that’s changed her life that’s something you never forget.”
Unlike the majority of softball programs in the state, the players on Rockwell range from girls who have never owned a batting glove to those who have played in super leagues and the combination presents some unique challenges.
“I have a couple of international kids who didn’t even know what a softball was. Rockwell is a great school. It’s a small school. You’re more than a number and that’s what I like about Rockwell, it gives everyone a chance to play,” Gifford said. “At some of these schools if you don’t know somebody, you’re not getting in and basically you’re a number and you can get lost in the shuffle.”
Rockwell lost to North Summit 17-14 on Thursday and will now have to wait to see what happens on Tuesday to see if they will earn the fourth and final playoff spot in the 2A North Division.
Gifford’s interest in coaching stemmed from the relationship he had from his Uncle Tom Steinke, who played basketball at BYU and also coached at Westminster in Salt Lake City. He was inducted into the Westminster Hall of Fame in 2011.
His oldest son and oldest daughter attended Lehi High School, but his two youngest daughters decided to attend Rockwell, a charter school that caps its enrollment at 700 but is most comfortable at its current enrollment of 480.
Shayna flourished at Rockwell in both softball and basketball. She returned to help her father coach two years ago.
Lynsie is the youngest of Gifford’s children. She’s a senior on this year’s team but even though Troy will no longer have any kids at Rockwell, he’s had such a positive experience that he’s still hooked on coaching.
Rockwell is in its athletic infancy. The school opened in 2008 and has been participating in UHSAA athletics for years and have won a drama title in both 1A and 2A, but the Marshalls are still looking for their first athletic state championship. They compete in cross country, track, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball.
RaNell Sellers is the school’s track and cross country coach. She also serves as the school’s athletic director.
“We don’t have a track and are having a hard time getting other schools to let us practice on theirs so we work on sprints in the parking lot,” Sellers said. “We’re trying to get a track and we hope that will happen next year. We’re refinancing the school and want to get the track as part of the refinance.”
Another challenge in establishing a competing athletic program is school’s emphasis it puts on academics.
“The state requires a 2.0 GPA to be eligible to participate in athletics but we wanted to put more emphasis on academics so our policy is a 2.5 GPA and that can sometimes be difficult when you’re dealing with such small numbers,” said Rockwell Director Darren Beck, who is also the baseball coach. “We have 13 boys on the team and there have been some games this year when we’ve only had nine players who have been eligible. The players range from those who have played in super leagues to those who have recently picked up a bat and a glove for the first time.”
The baseball team finished fourth in 2A North with a 6-6 record and earned a first-round playoff game against Gunnison.
The softball team won two of its last three games and used the final home game of the year last week against St. Joseph to give a start to some additional players. One player got her first hit of the season.
The Marshalls won both games of a double header and in the process provided a feel-good moment for the entire team. There have been many of those moments this year that include a tournament in St. George where they tried to teach a player nicknamed “Cowboy” how to walk a certain way or how many plates the players could put down at their favorite buffet.
Positive playing experiences like this that Rockwell specializes in.