CAMP McCRADY, S.C. - With the first pitch of the 2009 Division II baseball season just over a week away, teams all over the country are preparing with bats, balls and gloves. At Newberry College, you can add in fire watch, high ropes and tanks.
The Newberry baseball team headed to Camp McCrady last weekend for a "Boot Camp" experience with the Army National Guard. Under the direction of First Lieutenant Lawrence Carrigan and Staff Sergeant Scott Johnson, the team was not treated to a watered down version of the Army, but to a full-on boot camp experience from top to bottom.
"When we first got to Camp McCrady and split into the teams, the players were shocked," said senior captain John Kirkland. "At first, many of the players didn't react well to how hard the sergeants were on them, but as the weekend went on, the team responded well to the challenge set before them."
On Friday, the team arrived at Camp McCrady, did Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI), was put into a Company formation and subdivided into five teams: A, B, C, D, E and team leaders were identified. The team learned to stand at parade rest, stand at attention, sound off with appropriate commands and responses, and learned to march.
Following the RSOI, the team conducted a road march, run, went down the 20-foot rappel tower and went through the Low Ropes Course.
A very early Saturday wake-up call started the day before the team participated in the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) where they did pushups and situps indoors, before going on a two-mile run on the one-mile track at Camp McCrady in frigid conditions.
"Running at practice doesn't seem as bad to them anymore now that they've gone on a two-mile run at 6 a.m. when it felt like it was seven degrees outside," said head coach Bob Rikeman.
Following the APFT, the team went through the Teamwork Development Course and High Ropes. The challenges and obstacles of the two courses forced the players to communicate effectively and quickly while thinking on their toes.
"It was great team building," said senior Phillip Bartz. "We had to work as a group and pay attention to details. It's carried over to the field as we strive for perfection in what we do and worry about all of the little things that will help us win."
"The High Ropes was physically challenging but was also a lot of fun," said senior Casio Grider. "You have to try your hardest in everything you do, and the guys have taken that intensity to the field at practice since we got back."
Following the mentally and physically excruciating weekend, the team was rewarded with a visit from First Lieutenant David House, who brought his Abrams tank company for team to check out. By the time the team returned to campus that evening, Rikeman said the Army National Guard members who ran the weekend were raving over the team's enthusiasm, teamwork and progress in communication since arriving at Camp McCrady.
"As the guys were running through the woods on these courses, they had the sergeants high fiving them and cracking up at the cadences they came up with. The real character and team dynamic came out through the challenges they faced.
"From the beginning of the weekend until the end, these guys did what the Army guys do," Rikeman said. "The sergeants were tough on them the whole time, but they fought through everything in front of them. Since we returned to campus, everyone on the team's attitude has become exceptionally better, and we all work together as a team in everything we do.
"Thanks to Lieutenant Carrigan and Staff Sergeant Johnson, the Newberry College ROTC and the Army National Guard, this was easily the best team experience I have ever had," Rikeman added.
The team will look to carry the lessons learned last weekend onto the field next weekend, as the 2009 season begins at the Smith Road Complex. First Pitch 2009 takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, February 1, against Limestone College.