Woodbury-based girls fastpitch team making Magic
Tom Schmidt remembers surveying the scene at a girls softball tournament in Colorado.
He counted 15 Twin Cities east-metro players competing at the national-level tournament. He and another east metro parent, Rick Pickett, also noticed those girls were all playing for a team based out of the west metro.
“There was a lot of good talent in the east metro all having to go to the west,” Schmidt, a longtime Woodbury chiropractor, said.
Together with the Woodbury Youth Athletic League (WYAL), Schmidt and Pickett helped launch their answer to the conundrum – the Minnesota Magic.
The team, now in its fourth year of existence, draws top talent from the area, including students who attend Woodbury, Park, East Ridge, Stillwater and Tartan high schools. Woodbury players attending New Life Academy, Hill-Murray and Cretin-Derham Hall are also counted among the Magic’s ranks.
The Magic’s effect is already being felt at the prep level. Woodbury High School softball coach Bob Samson said he notices it the first day his players come to practice.
“Our high school program is the beneficiary of the many talented players they send us,” Samson said. “I guess you could say … the magic shows.”
The Magic is a creature of the WYAL and practices mostly in Woodbury. League stipulations require heavy Woodbury representation on the team, though players from other suburbs are mixed in.
After starting off as a relatively small operation, the program this year now fields five teams that compete against high-level competition in tournaments in the five-state area.
“We’re trying to bring the resources to those local kids,” said Ron Mickschl, whose daughter Ashley – a WHS student and pitcher for the Royals – plays for the Magic.
The Magic’s 16U Gold team is the defending champion of the Minnesota 16U club ball elite tournament. Meanwhile, the Magic’s 14U Gold team qualified for the 2014 national tournament.
Schmidt, director of softball for the Magic, explained that the team serves as a feeder program for players looking to play college softball.
Not only does the program put the players directly in front of college coaches – two of whom double as Magic coaches – the program has developed a strategic effort to showcase its players.
That has included the establishment of a recruiting director position. The new position, Schmidt said, creates point of contact for college scouts to reach out to Magic players. Players, meanwhile, are required to identify which colleges they would like to attend.
Once the players have identified their desired colleges, they write letters to the teams introducing themselves and inviting them to come watch them play at tournaments.
That component is in addition to the college softball coaches who participate directly with the Magic: Jim Rubbelke, head coach for Hamline University and Bob Bartel, head coach at Concordia (St. Paul) University. Other coaches include Michele Harrison, a former University of Minnesota pitching standout, and Craig Morris, an assistant coach at East Ridge. Schmidt’s daughter, Rebekah – a New Life Academy graduate who is now ace of the pitching staff at Drake University – and Carly Pickett, a Maplewood native playing at Augustana College, also assist the Magic staff.
“This coaching staff is as good as any club team in Minnesota – and better than most,” Schmidt said.
The 16U teams have already produced Division I-level recruits and Schmidt thinks that’s just the beginning. He expects that as the program builds, its Gold-level teams will become a D-I pipeline while the Purple-level teams produce Division II and III players.
“They will be getting offers,” he said.
Schmidt, whose softball experience includes helping form the four-time state champion NLA team and serving for three years as director of the Minnesota Blizzard, noted that the Magic’s focus isn’t all on the field. The team emphasizes academics, he said. That’s why chatter on the bus rides to tournaments often gives way to silence as the student-athletes burrow into textbooks.
“They learn to multi-task,” Schmidt said.
He has also made community outreach a component of the program.
The Magic recently committed to assist in the effort to finalize Madison’s Place – the universal playground set to be built at Bielenberg Sports Center. Madison’s Place supporters recently turned to crowd-funding as a means to cross the funding finish line.
The Magic will hold a skills clinic on July 23 in Woodbury. More information on the team is available at http://mnmagic99.wix.com/magic.