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Artesia Punishers in a holding pattern, look to a possible travel softball season this summer

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The COVID-19 situation has abruptly ended the high school spring athletic season and has put temporary stops to other events that some of the winter sports teams had planned, i.e. banquets and in-school recognitions. As summer is on the horizon in the next month or so, travel softball and other sports hope to not get affected as much.

The biggest organization in the area during the summer is the Artesia Punishers travel softball program and while little had been going on due to the high school season being in operation until recently, the global pandemic hasn’t affected the Punishers as much. Like most people, Punishers president Bob Medina started to receive the first reactions on Mar. 12. Medina, who also owns VIP Batting in Hawaiian Gardens, is also the head coach of the Punishers 18 Gold team.

“The initial first day…the kids were sad that they had lost their high school season,” Medina said. “They came in and I said, ‘well, don’t worry about it. We’re going to get through this and we’re going to start working out as of tomorrow’. We have an opportunity to really go forward and big. By the time I got home, I saw the news and I said, ‘every 24 hours it’s a different story’. So, nobody really has the right answer to tell them. We did, at that moment, cancel everything until the following week.

“We thought it was going to be something that we could work on the kids,” he continued. “But social distancing is very important and it’s very serious. I’ve been telling the kids through email the same thing.”

With the ‘Stay at Home’ order put in place, Medina said he has been taking this opportunity to clean his place of business nice, fixing a lot of things and really over-sanitizing what he has sitting in there right now.

“There’s nobody going in there as of right now, of course,” he said. “We’ve closed down, completely, until we hear further. It is what it is. You’ve got to be able to do your part of this serious unknown that we do not know anything about. I don’t want to be zero of one.”

Currently, there are six teams in the Punishers family in Southern California and two more in Las Vegas. A ninth team could possibly form in North Carolina. There weren’t any games or tournaments for the Gold team, the 18-Under Red team, which is new for this season, the 16-Under team coached by Vince Gonzales, the 16-Under team coached by Joseph Alvarez and the 16-Under team coached by Kurt Thode. The only team that had its season shut down for the time being was the 14-Under squad coached by Andy Macias and has already had their upcoming qualifying tournaments cancelled.

Once the high school season was to be concluded in May, Medina’s team was scheduled to participate in several tournaments, most notably the Premier Girls Fastpitch Arizona qualifier in late May, the Triple Crown Sports Zoom Into June tournament and PGF Las Vegas qualifier in June and the PGF National Championship in late July. Medina said he had to enter in these tournaments a year in advance. His 18 Gold team was also planning on going to Hawai’i in early August for another tournament.

“The information we’re getting is it is just too soon to make any kind of decision like that,” Medina said of the summer tournaments. “If the date comes, I believe they would cancel. If the date was today or next week, it would probably already been cancelled from what I would understand.”

One of the main jobs of any travel softball coach is getting their players recruited by colleges. Since social distancing is the norm during this time, Medina said he is not affected on the recruitment side, but if tournaments are cancelled, it could affect the teams a little bit. For Medina, who has been a college coach for nine years, getting players recruited isn’t as hard as one would think because Medina knows a truckload of college coaches and has been doing this for a long time. So, if the college coaches can’t come out and see a player in person at a tournament or friendly, Medina can personally call a contact and try to get a player recruited that way.

“I think I have a pretty good reputation where they would believe what I would say and I’ve done that on phone calls before where they’ve never seen a kid,” Medina said. “And, they’ve offered a full ride scholarship on the phone and different things like that.”

Medina said he recently talked to all the other Punishers coaches over the phone and they are going to start skyping each other and have coaches’ meetings along with question and answer sessions.

“I’m probably going to do the same with the team and get them into skype and stuff like that and get them in a group and then talk about what’s going on and how are things going because it is an unknown,” Medina said. “We’re not experts; I’m not an expert. I don’t claim to be. I don’t know the answers to everything. The kids probably have a lot of questions, too. I think support is very important and by having the teams reaching out to them, they feel comfortable that there is support around them and people do have their backs and are guiding them in the right direction.”

So, like everyone else, Medina and the rest of the Punishers are in a holding pattern and everyone is hopeful that teams will be able to hit the field in a few months.