LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One of the toughest teams in Louisville last weekend didn't just play through some of the state's hottest weather since the Great Depression, it lived through it.
It would've been enough had the Fairdale 16U girls' softball players won their Babe Ruth state championship in temperatures that reached 102 degrees last Saturday in Glasgow, Ky., losing six players for periods during the two-day tournament to heat exhaustion.
But that wasn't enough for Fairdale, which won its second straight Babe Ruth state title and will head to the regional tournament in Shelbyville, Ind., next Wednesday to play for a chance at the Babe Ruth World Series in North Carolina.
No, these girls and their coaches and families didn't retire to the comfort of an air-conditioned hotel when the games were over. They headed to a campground.
"That's kind of their ritual," said Mitchell Poole, an assistant with the team who coached it to the championship last weekend because regular coach Mike Robinson, the head softball coach at Fairdale High School, had to sit out a state-mandated two-week dead period for contact with players.
"Believe me, if it'd been my choice, I'd have been in a hotel room," Poole said. "But they said, 'Oh no. We're all camping.'"
Robinson, who was able to go and watch the tournament from the stands because his daughter, Makayla, plays for the team, said it was a nervous weekend. One other tournament at the facility was called off because of the heat.
"The first thing I said to the tournament director when I got there was that at 104 degrees (heat index), the rule book says there's not supposed to be any activity on the field," Robinson said. "They had somebody running the tournament and they were supposed to be checking it, but I never saw them walk on the field once. They just kept them going. They shut down a younger age group. I don't know what the reason was, but I thought they should have pulled them off the field, absolutely."
Poole said they proceeded cautiously. Tiffany Price, the team's No. 1 pitcher, had been sick the day before and was given some cold medicine. She became dehydrated during the first game and had to come off. Her parents that night took her to a hotel to help her rehydrate.
For the others, Robinson said it was a matter of constant supervision. He told them all before going out that if they felt even the beginnings of heat exhaustion, and gave them the symptoms, they should come off the field immediately. Coaches would deliver water to players in the field during innings, and were making it a point to talk to each player after every inning to watch for signs of disorientation.
"Just as a parent, I had a big talk with them before they stepped on the field," Robinson said. "And five or six times during the tournament girls had to come out because of the heat. We only had one that tried to deny (heat exhaustion), but we caught it.
"I told them, 'none of this is worth your health. If you start feeling bad and need to come out, if we don't have enough players to finish, that's okay. We'll go home, everybody's healthy and safe, and that's fine.'"
Fairdale lost the first two games in pool play on Friday, to host Barren County and to Blue Lick from Louisville, then rallied for a win over Hart County to end the day before heading for the campground.
"The first tournament we won last year, we had been camping and had a blast," Price said. "At Bailey's Point. So that's just what we do."
Still, Aileen Schippel said, it was a different mood around the campground last weekend.
"Usually they're fooling around, swimming and playing," she said. "But they were pretty worn out after those games. They just sat around and sat by the box fans."
On Saturday, however, registered as the hottest day since 1936 in many Kentucky locations, it was Fairdale that was on fire.
"They really were playing well," Poole said. "To the point where other coaches were asking if we'd been sandbagging."
They beat Blue Lick, then after Hart County upset Barren County, went on to beat them for the championship.
"It was tough, but we kept them watered down, even during the innings," Poole said. "But the great thing about this team was that I didn't hear a single complaint about the heat. Not one of them complained the whole weekend."
I'm sorry. I have to stop things right there. If you can spend a weekend with a bunch of teenagers in the heat and not have them complain about it, you've got a pretty special group.
Not that they didn't get rankled now and then.
Tournament host Barren County had rigged up fans in their dugout, and Fairdale had asked if they could leave them in there for one of its games, but got turned down.
"We even offered to pay them," Price said.
As it turned out, Fairdale had a better weapon to beat the heat.
"Frogg Toggs," Price said.
"They're like a car chamois," she said. "But they really hold the water, and we wrapped them around our necks."
Sounds like a sponsorship opportunity. Which, by the way, the team could use. Organizers are trying to raise $4,500 for their regional trip to cover tournament fees, travel and lodging. A year ago, the team won the state championship and then had to give up a chance to play for the regional title, because the tournament was in Wisconsin and they couldn't afford the trip.
This year, with the regional closer, they're excited for the opportunity.
"I think we're confident," Price said. "We've beaten two of the teams that are going to be there, and we really believe in each other."
And, as they demonstrated, they're a tough group. One player, Alyssa Miller, is eight months removed from a hip surgery. Others are dealing with various ailments, back, neck, even a heart condition that doctors have okayed for competition.
"For a group of young ladies, they're about as tough a group as I've met in my life," Robinson said. "I don't know what causes it, but they just keep going."
I don't venture into youth sports with columns too often, for a simple reason. You write about one team, and there are a dozen others you could write similar stories about. Prairie Village in Louisville, for instance, won state Babe Ruth softball championships in the 14U, 12U, 10U and 8U divisions last weekend. I'm sure there are many others, in many sports, all in extreme heat. Every team is a story, every one deserving, and you could spend a month writing little else.
I just was struck by a team that not only played in the heat, but camped through it.
For all these players, regardless of what happens down the tournament road, winning a state championship on the hottest weekend in their state since their great grandparents were young is something they'll remember long after the games have passed from their memories. Congratulations to them all, and to the vigilant coaches and parents who kept them safe.
NOTE: Fairdale is looking for help to keep on going. Parents are putting together money any way they can, but the organization is accepting donations and/or sponsorships. For information call Roger Price at (502) 639-0311.
The players: Tiffany Price, Alyssa Miller, Narrissa Keown, Autumn Keown, Makayla Robinson, Emily Harned, Madison Black, Breanna Frank, LeeAnna Hundley, Megan Dempster, Tessa Repstock, Sam Cleaver.
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