May 5, 2016
ANN ARBOR – Carolynn Hayman was never a softball player but decided to step on the diamond.
The Ann Arbor resident got a crash course from one of the best teams in the nation as part of the Michigan Softball Academy, hosted by coach Carol Hutchins and her team on Thursday at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor.
“We had Sarah Sara Driesenga teaching us pitching, Sierra Romero teaching us hitting and Olivia Richvalsky teaching us how to run the bases,” said Hayman, who was wearing a skirt and hat made out of pink balloons, “so I think we have it pretty much covered.”
The Michigan Softball Academy, now in its seventh year, raises awareness in the fight against breast cancer as well as funds for the American Cancer Society. According to the academy web site, as of 8 p.m. Thursday night the event had generated $129,514 this year – its highest total ever. The camp maxed out at about 300 participants and about 450 for the social mixer after.
“It’s evolved every year, it gets better every year,” Hutchins said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to eradicate breast cancer. That’s the bottom line.”
The event had an uptick in popularity this year due to the Home Run Derby between Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and former Michigan quarterback Rick Leach.
“Our goal is to find different ways to raise money,” Hutchins said. “Adding the Home Run Derby was certainly one. That’s really a credit to Rick Leach.”
Leach, who played 10 seasons of Major League Baseball and defeated Harbaugh 1-0 in Thursday’s derby, said he was just trying to find a way to raise money for charity through the academy and it wasn’t about a head-to-head battle.
“We would never do that,” he said with a smile. “I’m not very competitive, Jimmy is a little bit competitive. That’s how it got started.”
Harbaugh, whose wife, Sarah, served as the honorary chair of the event, said it was his first home run derby and he hasn’t been active on a diamond in a long time.
“I always have a bat in my office,” he said. “Tom Cruise and ‘A Few Good Men’ style – I just think better with a bat. That’s been about the extent of it the last 25, 30 years.”
Harbaugh said Hutchins asked him to be part of the event and credited the 32-year veteran coach.
“Hutch is amazing,” he said. “Any organization runs on enthusiasm. It’s like the gas in the tank. Nobody has more enthusiasm than Hutch does for everything she does. It’s infectious, it rubs off on everybody.”
The camp was staffed by Hutchins and her players, who guided participants through various stations.
“This experience is one of the most rewarding of the entire year,” Richvalsky, a senior outfielder, said. “I’ve looked forward to it ever since I got to be a part of it my freshman year. It’s a celebration in our eyes.
“We’re all touched by cancer, this is just an awesome way we can give back and enjoy each other.”