By Jean DePlacido
After Sheri Russell sold the Mass Mutiny women's professional football club to Ernie Boch, Jr., she missed the experience of being part of a team.
So Dr. Russell, who runs the Russell Chiropractic and Sports Medicine Center in Beverly, found just what she was looking for as manager of the 12-and-Under Beverly Panthers fastpitch softball traveling team.
"I was involved with the Mutiny for nine years: the first five as sports medicine director and four as owner," said Russell, who is assisted on the Beverly squad by her coaches Ed Russell and Mary Devin. "Our football season was very long, but I loved it. The thing I really missed was the camaraderie."
Looking to give back to the community, Russell felt getting involved with the Beverly 12U team was a perfect fit. As someone who always loved the sport, she always wanted to become another female coach in the travel softball world.
"There aren't many women involved in coaching. We went to a tournament last weekend, and of the 24 teams only three had women coaches," she said. "There are a lot of dads involved, but not a lot of female role models — who I think are very important, especially since I didn't have a lot of them growing up."
Three traveling teams (12U, 14U, and 18U) are part of the Beverly Youth Softball program. The older teams get started a bit later than 12U because the girls also play for their respective high school teams.
"Tryouts are held to determine who makes the traveling squads, and we go to 6-7 tournaments through the summer," said Jamie Silvestri, president of Beverly Youth Softball. "Usually it's two in June, July, and August, with the possibility of a Labor Day Tourney in Salem.
Our program has been around for 10 years. Most of the Beverly High varsity players are graduates of our program."
Silvestri estimates there are around 42 girls in the traveling programs, and Amateur Softball Association (ASA) rules are followed.
Russell knew she would have an elite team, but was surprised to find out how many basic fundamentals had to be taught.
"It's amazing how much progress they have made in 8-9 weeks," said Russell, who pitched at UMass and later played Major A softball before shoulder problems ended her career. "We started with girls at the beginner level, and now they are quite competitive. I'd forgotten how interesting 12-year-old girls can be, and I have loved watching the switch being flipped on once they learn the proper mechanics of throwing and catching.
"Working with these girls brings me more joy in three hours a week than most have in a year. It's been a great deal of work, but I believe they have what it takes."
There are 14 girls on the team, all of whom hail from Beverly except for Mollie Watson and Gabrielle Muniz of Rockport and Abrielle Stevens of Salem. Emily Pitman, Jennifer Nasser, Melissa Lubas, Krystall Vincent, Jackie Hart, Samantha Lear, Mikaela Macomber, Megan Gunther, Katherine Brown, Megan Kelley, and Lacey Thompson are all from Beverly.
"My coaching philosophy is a bit different from most," said Russell. "Over the past 15 years there has been a "dumbing down" of the lessons sports have to offer, with everybody getting a plaque or a trophy. The kids miss the life lessons that are more important, so after each game I have them write down what they need to work on and set goals for themselves and the team. You gain more from your losses than wins, and knowing what you have to improve on is very important.
"We work on these things in practice, and they are having more fun because they're playing the game the way it is supposed to be played. As for me, I'm having a blast."