Charity, not just winning, important to MTHS softball

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Members of the MTHS softball program pose for a photo during the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Walk earlier this month at county park The members of the Middle Township High School softball program are trying as hard as possible to win games.

More importantly, though, the Lady Panthers are trying their best to win away from the field, too, and they’re doing a very good job of it.

The team has made a conscious effort to become more involved in its community this season, participating in a number of charitable endeavors.

“We love softball and we practice and play really hard, but it’s not all about winning games,” said Middle coach Lauren Ruef, who has spearheaded the program’s charitable efforts. “If all 25 of us, or even half of us, get involved in things, it can do a lot of help in the community.”

Earlier this month, Middle participated as a team in the Cape May County Big Brothers/Big Sisters Walk at county park. Each walker paid an entry fee and also solicited pledges for sponsorship for participation. The team raised about $900 toward the cause at the event.

Lauren Novsak, a junior on the team, helped persuade the program to participate in the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters Walk after becoming involved in a partnership program at the high school in which high school students attend a township elementary school to help mentor children in grades 3-5.

“This was the first year we did the walk as a team,” Novsak said. “Coach Lauren presented the idea to me in the preseason because she knew I had been involved in the program and we both thought it was a good idea.

“I love being involved in community projects. It makes me feel really good. Coach Lauren emphasizes building team unity and bonding. She told us we have a chance to be here for more than just softball, that we can make a difference in the community. We’ll play softball, but we’ll be there for the community in other ways as well.”

Middle will next participate in a weekend tournament at Triton High School in early May that benefits Coaches vs. Cancer.

Senior catcher Alyssa Discepola has some previous experience in charity events. She has been heavily involved in a major fund-raising event each year for the Make-A-Wish Foundation at Menz’s Restaurant, which is owned by her family.

“I think it shows our community we care and we want to help people,” Discepola said. “We’re a softball team, but we’re also like one big family we like to help people.

“You can learn a lot. I learn that you can’t take things for granted. There are kids and people out there that need help and we can’t think it’s all about us. You have to help others and help make their dreams come true, too.”

Getting involved in community events helps the players get to know one another better, away from the bats, balls and gloves.

“It helps us to bond and it makes us closer as a team,” senior pitcher Tori Sittineri said. “It helps us get close with our teammates and it creates memories for us.”

Ruef was proud of her team’s participation at the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Walk. The event occurred on Sunday, April 5, which was the team’s only scheduled day off from games or practices over a two-week stretch. Yet every player in the program made it out to the event.

“We had no day off in there in exchange for doing the walk but the kids didn’t think twice about signing up for it,” Ruef said. “I think it’s very important that we get involved in the community and not have it just be about playing softball. It’s nice to do things together as a team and work toward a goal off the field, too, because that’s the same as working toward winning our next softball game.

“We have a great group of kids here. Their families have all already taught them that things like this are important and that they should get involved in a lot of things. I think it’s my responsibility as a coach to not have this just be about softball but to do other positive things together as well and give them an opportunity to see how they can help in the community.”

Middle’s softball team, like many other sports teams and clubs at the high school, will also participate in the Middle Township High School Relay For Life event on May 16.

The player say the extra time they spend together is well worth it.

“It’s difficult to put in the extra time but at the same time it’s a great chance to bond with our teammates and it’s a great chance to help people and get out there and have fun for a great cause,” said senior Victoria Raffaele. “It’s very much worth every second of it.”

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