In Travelball circuit, high school girls make the pitch to colleges

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC


GM junior Erika Knockenhauer, far right in blue, steps to the side after throwing a pitch as GM sophomore Madison Wilson practices a throwdown to second base. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Major league pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida and Arizona later this week, but a group of middle and high school girls – including three from Green Mountain and three from Springfield – have already been working out since November. This is Travel Softball, and these girls are the Brattleboro Heat.

In the gym of Landmark College in Putney this past Sunday morning, a dozen or so fast pitch softball players from communities in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts warmed up, took batting practice, ran through infield drills and worked on what coaches call “mechanics” by hitting balls off batting tees over and over again. And then some more.

What gets a teenager out of the house early on a day off from school?

Coaches (left to right) Matt Wilson, Mark Bodin and Pat Healy talk to the girls before the full squad practice begins.

“These girls have a passion for softball and many of them want to play in college, and to do that, you have to play Travelball,” said Coach Matt Wilson. “College coaches don’t care about what you do playing in high school.” He noted that college scouts don’t focus on high school games but concentrate on the programs with the most motivated players.

And when Wilson talks about playing in college, the subtext is scholarships.

Travel Softball is a system where teams of girls play in tournaments over the summer with the hopes of being seen and recruited into a softball program that can shave substantial sums off a college education.

The teams are organized by age (14 and under, 16 and under and 18 and under) with 12 to 14 girls on a team. Each girl pays a fee to participate. Depending on the program, fees can range from around $350 all the way up to $5,000 for the elite programs.

While players hit off batting tees to perfect their mechanics, a batter takes practice from a borrowed pitching machine.

In the most basic programs, the fee goes toward paying the entrance cost of five or six tournaments plus some equipment like bats, which can run between $250 and $500 each for durable, high quality models. At the other end of the scale, the elite teams have professional coaching, custom uniforms and accessories like team gear bags and they enter the more expensive and prestigious tournaments.

“Families in this area can’t afford that kind of program,” said Wilson, noting that the Brattleboro Heat tries to keep the annual fee to a minimum and – beginning last year – to raise money for some of the other costs like renting the college gym. “We don’t have a pitching machine,” said Wilson, adding that the parents of one player brings their machine to every practice.

Having a little extra money also allows the team to waive the fee for a player whose family might not be able to afford the program.

Wilson stops in mid-sentence and looks over at batting practice. “Sorry, there’s a sound you hear when someone hits a ball just right,” said Wilson, who then praises Tierney O’Brien of Cavendish on her swing.

Coach Mark Bodin talks with players during infield practice.

In addition to fees, with tournaments stretching over a three-day weekend, the girls and their families have to shoulder the cost of travel, hotels and meals. “It’s a big financial commitment,” says Wilson, whose daughter Madison catches for the 16 and under team that he coaches. The third Green Mountain player is pitcher Erika Knockenhauer.

There are also three girls who play for the Springfield High School Cosmos including Hannah Crosby, Mykahla Jasinski and Izzy Hoisington.

Fundraising for better results

Andover’s Mark Bodin, whose daughter Leah played Travelball and is now a senior playing at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., administers the program and would like to raise enough money to have college hitting coaches work with the girls.

“You should see the kind of improvement that comes from that,” Bodin  says.

So how much would the Heat like to raise?

“We could do a lot with $3,000,” says Bodin, noting that the total was for all three teams or about 40 girls.

To make a non-deductible contribution, send a check payable to Brattleboro Heat to 2274 East Hill Road, Andover, VT 05143. For more information, email

Brattleboro Heat 2018 Summer Schedule:

Note: Depending on family schedules, teams may play a sixth tournament in early August.

14 and under

  • June 22-24: Summer Sizzler, Brattleboro
  • June 30-July 1: CGSL June Tournament, Coventry, R.I.
  • July 13-15: Coaches Classic, Greenfield, Mass.
  • July 21-22: 14U Skirt in the Dirt, Leominster, Mass.
  • July 27-29: Mid-Summer Storm, Greenfield, Mass.

16 and under

  • June 22-24: Summer Sizzler, Brattleboro
  • June 30-July 1: 2018 16U Empire City Summer Classic, S. Glens Falls, N.Y.
  • July 13-15: Coaches Classic, Greenfield, Mass.
  • July 21-22: MCMASA Umpires Open, Leominster, Mass.
  • July 29-30: Ocean State Invitational, Appanoug, R.I.

18 and under:

  • June 22-24: Summer Sizzler, Brattleboro
  • June 30-July 1: Mount Washington Valley Classic 7th Annual, North Conway Region, N.H.
  • July 14-15: Richard Durling Invitational, Appanoug, R.I.
  • July 20-22: 18U All-American, Lowell, Mass. (3 day, 6 game minimum – tentative)
  • July 28-29: Nor’easter Classic, Laconia, N.H.
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