It takes more than just players and coaches to change the culture surrounding a losing high school program — it can take an entire school.
On Tuesday, March 22, the Bellingham High community showed its support for a softball team that just five years ago was devoid of almost any hope with an event organized by Steve Chronister’s leadership class to draw a “Northwest Conference-record crowd” to the Red Raiders’ game against Meridian. Their efforts paid off, as an estimated 235 spectators cheered Bellingham to a 12-2 win to improve to 3-0 on the season.
“We want to make sure all teams feel positive support from the student body,” said junior Braydon Bippley, who is the communications director for the Bellingham ASB and handles daily announcements at the school.
Until recently, there justifiably wasn’t a whole lot of outside support around Bellingham’s softball program. From 2007 to 2011, the Red Raiders won just one of 95 games.
But under new coach Rick Ellis, things slowly began to turn around in 2012, as Bellingham won two games each of the next two seasons. The 2014 campaign brought five wins, and last year the Red Raiders surpassed their cumulative win total from the previous nine years with a 12-8 regular-season record and advanced to the Northwest District Tournament for the first time in more than a decade.
1-94 Bellingham softball team’s cumulative record from 2007-2011.
24-58 Bellingham softball team’s cumulative record since 2011.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have players,” Ellis said in a phone interview, also crediting an upgrade in the program’s facilities for the change in culture. “That makes coaching a whole lot easier. I think this year and starting last year, we’ve got more players committed to the sport year-round.”
And people around the school are taking notice.
Bippley said the student leadership class tries to support every sport and activity at Bellingham, but it chose to focus the efforts of this event on the softball team because it was a program on the rise from such depths.
“We’ve noticed softball, a lot of the time, goes unnoticed, and we have a outstanding team,” Bippley said. “We want to make sure they know that we know they are excelling.”
To do so, Bippley said the class has made daily announcements and fliers about Tuesday’s event and has started a poster with softball players’ names on it that students could sign to show support. The class also planned to bake cookies to distribute at the game as an incentive to draw more people to the game.
Kids are starting to notice the softball team with all the efforts we put. People are interested in what’s going on with the team. Some have never watched a softball game and maybe don’t understand, but maybe they want to try it. They’re on board with us trying to support this team.
Bellingham junior Braydon Bippley, communications director for the Bellingham ASB
Chronister said he tried a similar event for his tennis teams about a decade ago and drew approximately 400 people.
“We wanted to celebrate softball, celebrate Bellingham High School and make it a fun event,” Chronister said.
Bippley said the work was paying off, as there was more buzz about softball throughout the halls at Bellingham than before the event, and the four or five softball players he knows have appreciated the class’ efforts.
“I think they really don’t know what to expect,” Ellis said of his team. “Normally, they’ve probably just played in front of parents and friends. If the track is lined with people, it would be a really cool feeling for them. I know they’re excited for the opportunity.”