DANVILLE – Every morning during the week when most area softball players are sound asleep, Schlarman coach Randy Skaggs is schooling his players on the finer points of the game in a class he calls Softball 101.
"We meet in the mornings at 7:05 in the library," Skaggs said. "What we cover during that time is the rule book, and then we also go over signs that we're going to use during the season. We cover mental situations that we might encounter and then also, probably almost every day, we take a quiz on the information we've learned."
If taking quizzes before the school day begins doesn't appeal to you, you likely wouldn't fare too well on Skaggs' squad.
"I think so many times, teams lose games because they don't know the rules," he said. "You know, a situation may happen in a game where (the players) just stop. But now, by knowing the rules, (my players) know how to handle the situation."
As important as Skaggs' softball quizzes are to team success, the Hilltoppers coach also has no place for underachievers in Schlarman's classrooms.
"(Especially my infielders) have to have a pretty high grade-point average," Skaggs said. "Because one of the things I tell them is, in the infield you have to be able to think quickly on your feet. You have to be able to react to a situation. You don't have time to sit there and ponder. You've got to know exactly where you're going (with the throw).
"I always tell them that grades correlate to how well you play on the field, because in our program we have over 40 signs that we use offensively and defensively. There are so many situations that can occur, and in a split-second you have to react to the exact situation and do what's called for."
Ever heard that old adage, 'easier said than done?' Skaggs knows the meaning of that saying all too well. So far this season the Hilltoppers are 5-7, with a number of close games.
One bright spot on the schedule occurred at nonconference rival Tuscola. Schlarman, which only has four upperclassmen on its roster, recorded a 6-0 victory against the Warriors, a team ranked third in the state in Class 1A.
"We're struggling right now," Skaggs said. "We've got a real young team, and starting out at the first of the year, I felt that everybody was out to prove that as a bunch of young kids, we could be really competitive. I think we went through success, so now we've gotten to the point where we've quit focusing on the game as much as we're capable of. We've got to learn through maturity how to handle situations. (There are) just way too many mental mistakes."
Skaggs has high expectations for his team, but this should come as no surprise to any of his players: They all knew what they were getting themselves into.
"The way our kids make varsity at Schlarman is, we have 10 physical fitness tests that they have to pass to get a varsity uniform," Skaggs said. "We have sweatshirts and on the back, we have a saying. It says, 'Success is a choice.' When you see a kid at Schlarman on varsity softball, she has chosen to work hard enough to pass those 10 tests to get a varsity uniform."
Between the tests, quizzes and coursework, Schlarman softball might be daunting to some, but Skaggs is firm in his belief that his coaching method will make his players stronger on and off the field.
"This is the one time that I think the kids can go out and they can earn something," Skaggs said. "It doesn't depend on their skill level; it doesn't depend on their softball ability, it's how bad do they really want a varsity uniform?
"The bottom line is: I try to teach the kids to the best of my ability so that they're going to be able to pass on information about softball and how softball applies to life. Softball is not life, but we can use softball to learn about life."