By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Ron Combs would like to see a softball team suiting up again for Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy, but he's not going to rob Peter to pay Paul to make that happen.
Combs, SVCA's longtime athletics director, has a coaching staff in place, a field ready for action this spring -- almost -- and a tentative schedule.
What he doesn't have is enough players, at least not yet. Combs said that as of Tuesday, the school needed at least three more players to ensure there would be enough to form a team to resume the sport after a four-year layoff.
"I've only got seven solid softball players that I know of for sure, so we're still looking for players," Combs said. "I'd like to get the program going again. The kids that I understand want to play that are home school kids are really, really talented."
Combs and prospective softball coach Ryan Spielman have been doing their best to beat the bushes for more players, getting the word out on campus and to as many home-school students as possible. But time is running out. Combs said he'd likely need to make a decision by next Monday on whether to go ahead with the sport this year.
"I've got all these teams that are going to schedule me on hold," Combs said. "They're waiting for our, 'OK, let's get this done.' So I've got teams that'll play me, I just don't have enough bodies. And I don't want to play sixth and seventh graders."
Combs could have gone a long way toward solving his numbers deficit by forcing current baseball players Taylor Jones and Samantha Yarnall to switch sports. Instead, he's left the decision up to them.
Both Jones and Yarnall started for the Patriots' baseball team last year. Jones, a senior, is actually a four-year starter at catcher and also plays second base and the outfield. Yarnall, an outfielder, was one of the team's better hitters last season.
Neither is inclined to drop baseball for softball.
"I think I've made my decision, and my decision is to go with baseball," Jones said. "I started playing baseball my freshman year and since I've stuck with it since I've been here, I just think it's the right decision for me."
Same goes for Yarnall, who plans to suit up for the baseball team in the spring.
"I was dreading if there was softball because we weren't really sure if I would have to play," Yarnall said. "But this year we talked to the coaches and the school and they said it could be my decision. I can choose which one I want to play, even though we're not completely sure yet that there will be a softball team. We're still working on getting girls, but I decided to play baseball."
For Yarnall, it's simply about playing against better competition.
"I think it will be more competition for me, and starting off with a new team it just wouldn't be as intense," Yarnall said. "I feel like baseball would really help me improve my game. And since I'm not really looking right now to play softball in college in the future ... if I can, it'd be great, but right now I'm probably going for basketball."
Combs said he even floated the possibility of Jones and Yarnall playing for both teams, although he admitted it would be tough to make that work.
"I don't think it would work that well because when baseball has games and softball has games at the same time, I'd go with baseball because that's my No. 1 priority," Jones said. "I'd be letting down the softball team because I wouldn't be there when I'm supposed to be with baseball, so I can't really do both. It's not fair to both teams."
Jones appreciates getting the chance to finish what she started on the baseball diamond.
"It's really great that we get the choice," Jones said. "I didn't know if I'd have to definitely play softball. If I did, I'd be OK with it. It's just that I've been with baseball since the beginning and I want to stick through it."
Combs is still hoping a few more softball players will materialize in time for this season. For now, he's got an outfield fence to mend thanks to an unfortunate lawnmower mishap. Otherwise, he just needs a few more players. Interested home school students should call Combs this week at 540-327-7898.
"I'd rather they played softball, to be honest, and let two more boys play baseball," Combs said of Jones and Yarnall. "I'm not going to force them to do it. Taylor has played [baseball] since her freshman year. And Sam is a good player, too."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>