It started with getting good grades, but the Crystal Lake Comets 16U team is having an impact on its community far beyond the softball field.
Among the 11 girls on the team, the average GPA is 4.1 in high school. Nine of the girls attend Crystal Lake high schools, three each at Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge.
Comets coach Bill Walsh said grades were the beginning of creating a team that would be celebrated more for its off the field endeavors than its softball wins.
“The girls are exceptional students. When we started this thing four years ago, that was the focus,” Walsh said. “We took a different direction for what we wanted to be recognized for.”
Some of the things the team has recently done include taking part in an annual lupus walk in Chicago, participating in local food drives and ringing the bell to raise money for the Salvation Army.
The team also visited the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago and did crafts and spent time with the children there to give their parents a break. Add in car washes and food drives, and it’s clear the team is kept busy with more than just batting and fielding practice.
On the field, the team has been just as successful. On Sunday, it won the Winfield of Dreams Tournament for its fifth consecutive tournament championship. Walsh said the bigger focus has united the team and had a positive impact on the field.
“That camaraderie really does bring them closer together. They really don’t want to let each other down,” Walsh said. “Camaraderie over talent, I’ll take it every day.”
Walsh said they aren’t trying to start a national organization but just give the team the opportunity to have a hands-on impact. It’s a more fulfilling experience than just writing a check to help, he said.
“It’s personal. It means more,” Walsh said. “We try and make them get involved.”
Personal took a step up when the team bought and wrapped presents for a family in need and delivered them Christmas morning.
“Probably the greatest Christmas I ever had,” Walsh said.
It’s also given the girls experience in setting up a charitable organization and making tough decisions about what to do with the money they raise. They wrote their own mission statement and launched cometscare.org to showcase their organization and help raise money.
Corey Helm, whose daughter Maddie plays on the team and attends Crystal Lake Central, said the team’s focus on giving back has had a huge impact on her daughter.
“It has given her extreme confidence and the will to want to give back,” Helm said. “I just like the person my daughter is starting to become.”
Now the goal is to replicate giving back to future Comets and even other organizations.
“A lot of teams talk about it, but they really don’t enact it,” Walsh said. “I think it’s unique right now. I’d like to think it would become the standard.”
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org