Lemon Volunteer of the Year (column)
London Community News
Very quietly, the Western Mustangs women’s softball team has become the latest dynasty on campus, thanks in large to head coach Pete Lemon. Now boasting two straight national titles, and three consecutive provincial championships (five in seven years), the Mustangs have become the team to beat amongst the Canadian university ranks.
But there’s much more to Lemon than just championships. Growing the game, giving back to the community, and yes, building the mighty Mustang machine, is all in day’s work for the Western professor — London Sports Council’s 2012 Spirit of Sport Award recipient as Volunteer of the Year.
Despite losing all-star pitcher Molly Yetman, now working in her hometown of Cambridge, and catcher Leslie Hanson of Oakville, attending medical school in Ireland, the Mustangs roared back with another successful season. At the Ontario Intercollegiate Women's Fastball Association (OIWFA) tournament held at the Mustangs home diamond at Stronach Park in late-October, Western beat the Ottawa Gee Gees 9-4 in extra innings. Lucas Vikings graduate Stacie Cox pitched all nine innings, and utility player Tricia MacKay was tournament MVP.
At the Canadian Collegiate Softball Association (CCSA) championships in Regina, Saskatchewan in early-October, the Mustangs defeated Durham College 10-2 with Cox picking up the win and going 3-for-3 at the plate.
“Stacie, as well as (Oakridge Oaks graduate) Kara Stirling and (Brampton, Ontario’s) Melinda Stevenson shared pitching equally all year long,” said Lemon. “The whole year, both Melinda and Stacie were nursing injuries. So we really had to rely on Kara, and she really rose to the occasion.
“To win one is tough, but to win a second one is much harder. And each year after that is even tougher because everybody is loose when they play you,” he added. “The pressure builds. We just have to be that much better so we can overcome that. We’re getting a chance to experience what it’s like to be the favourite virtually all the time.”
Success wouldn’t be as sweet for Lemon if he didn’t give back to the community. In addition to his professional duties at Western as Weider Research chair and the School of Kinesiology, Lemon and his Mustangs run clinics and operate tournaments for girls’ softball teams in London.
“We run clinics for all ages, from Mite under-10 to Midget up to 18 years of age,” said Lemon. “With the little girls, we talk about the fact that our current players at Western started when they were about their age. So, if they keep playing, they could play at Western one day. And they are really excited about doing that. And we have a couple players on our team right now who started with our clinics. When we get to the 18 year olds — the Grade 11 and 12 girls — we talk about this year or next year, you could come to Western and play.”
According to Lemon, providing a competitive playing field for girls is imperative to helping them later in life. He said as with other sports, girls softball sees a declining rate through the teenage years, for a number of reasons. They include the fact that there are few visible professional female athletes who can provide inspiration. But according to Lemon, “I’ve been trying to convince them that there is no reason why you can’t play into your 30s or 40s. And when you go to university, you can play at a very high level.”
Part of Lemon’s softball survival guide includes building the Mustangs program, which sees nowhere near the financial support of the football program, for example. On Nov. 27, for a second straight year, the Mustangs women’s softball team will host a fundraiser dinner at Wink’s Eatery on Richmond Street. Live entertainment, a silent auction and special guest speaker to be announced are all on the $20 tickets. For more information, contact Lemon at email@example.com or 519-661-2111 ext. 88139. Only 100 tickets are available.
Tickets for the Nov. 8 Spirit of Sports Awards and London Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Western Fair District’s Carousel Room are $40 apiece or table of eight for $320. Visit www.westernfairdistrict.com for details.
Jeffrey Reed is an award-winning journalist, and has been a member of the local sports media since 1980. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.