4/13/2018 7:29:00 AM Lakeland holds first of three youth baseball and softball camps
Dean hall/Lakeland Times
Lakeland Union High School softball coach Jason Morris watches as pitcher Tatum Morris helps Adelyn Markin with a fielding drill while Abby Johnson waits in line during the Lakeland Baseball/Softball Camp on Sunday, April 8.
Dean hall/Lakeland Times
Lakeland Union High School baseball coach Mike Wilhelm instructs kids during a fielding drill at the Lakeland Baseball/Softball Camp on Sunday, April 8.
The youth baseball and softball seasons are still months away, but it's never too early to start working on some skills to prepare for this summer.
On Sunday, Lakeland Union High School baseball and softball programs held the first of three sessions of it annual camp in the fieldhouse.
It's an opportunity for kids, ages seven to 14, to learn a few new skills to take home and implement for their development.
The first session covered fielding and throwing mechanics, while the next will focus on pitching and the third session on hitting.
"The first session was for fielding and throwing so really working on proper mechanics and then exposing them to outfield and infield stuff to get them fundamentals," LUHS baseball coach Mike Wilhelm said. "Next week we have pitching just to get our hands on kids and teach them the fundamentals of pitching so that they can hopefully take what we're teaching them into the season upcoming for them. We just want to get them some fundamentals so they can take them at home or if they want to take them to practice, they can use them at practice."
One of the crucial aspects of any camp sponsored by a high school is to get youth players accustomed to how things are done and what is expected once they reach the high school level.
The mark of most good high school programs is a strong feeder system from the youth organizations, which is what Lakeland is attempting to help build through these camps.
"Being on the Little League board, that's one of the things that we've been talking about," Wilhelm said. "Making the transition from Little League to Babe Ruth to high school as seamless as possible so that when they get to high school - this year is the anomaly, but we really only have two weeks of practice before we get into games - so we work on the fundamentals and stress the fundamentals, but there's a lot of other intricacies of the game that have to teach in that two weeks. So getting them to know the fundamentals and have really have the base knowledge of the game coming into high school is really important."
For the softball program, it's perhaps even more important because youth softball has not had a strong foundation in the area historically.
Not only is Lakeland attempting to build its high school programs, but it must build the youth program simultaneously, as opposed to the youth baseball program that has already been implemented for years.
"It's hugely important as we're trying to build the program from the base up, the sooner we can get them the basics of what we're teaching the high school girls, the sooner we can get into more of the advanced techniques when they get to us," LUHS softball coach Jason Morris said. "That's historically what a lot of the other schools in the conference have had - really good involvement in the youth program and it starts with these camps then moving into the summer leagues that we're going to be involved with as well."
Varsity players from the baseball and softball teams at Lakeland help out with the camps, while also bringing in outside help as well.
Morris has brought in the same pitching coach from the Oshkosh area that his daughter, Tatum, uses and helped her become an honorable mention All-Great Northern Conference pitcher as a freshman in 2017.
"I've been coaching from the time Tatum was seven so I've been involved with the younger kids for quite a while, so it's just a matter of tailoring it to the basics for the earlier years and kind of advancing as you can with the older kids," Jason Morris said.
The majority of the current players on Lakeland's baseball squad attended the camp at some point during their youth days, but now they are there to help out the kids with drills.
Wilhelm said he also wants his players to get to know the campers because many youth players look up to the high school kids.
"I want our kids to interact and my goal is for them to get to know two to three kids per session so they can give them a high-five and run some drills," Wilhelm said. "Gunnar (Weitz) ran our stretching program and some of our throwing progression. To use our high school kids and get them to have an impact the little league kids is really big because they look up to them. I know the high school kids don't really think that, but they really do."
The baseball program had approximately 55 kids come out between the two age groups, while softball had eight, with numbers expected to increase this Sunday.
Newcomers are still welcome, according to both coaches. Each session costs $20. Ages 7-10 lasts from noon until 1:30 p.m. and ages 11-14 run from 2 until 3:30 p.m.
Contact Mike Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @NickSabatoLT.