Photos provided by the Shenandoah Sluggers
This article is part of a series highlighting different organizations within NVTBL. Click here to read past feature articles. We will be posting new articles weekly.
Leaders in the Shenandoah Sluggers organization understand the dynamics coming from a smaller town and realize they are not exactly on an even playing field as some other larger organizations in Northern Virginia.
By embracing their community and establishing long-term bonds with families that go beyond the diamond, the Sluggers have created an identity and culture that attracts local players to join and stay in the program.
The Sluggers are based out of Purcellville, a close-knit, rural town nestled in the western part of Loudoun County. The program heads into their eighth year and have established 10 teams from 10u through the varsity level. Most of the players participate in Upper Loudoun Little League when they are not playing with the Sluggers and eventually attend either Woodgrove High School or Loudoun Valley High School.
The program’s main goal is to provide players a pathway to compete for roster spots on either of the local high school teams. Coaches also focus on keeping costs and travel at a minimum and competing in tournaments and games that challenge each team and player.
In most cases, rosters and coaching staffs remain unchanged season to season. As a result, players learn and develop over several seasons in a comfortable setting that facilitates continuity and passion for the Sluggers name.
“The feedback I get from parents is how much it means to them to have a continuous organization,” Sluggers president Chris York said. “Probably one of my favorite things I've seen over the years is that when kids are asked what team they play for, no matter the season, they say, ‘I play for the Sluggers.’"
York, who also coaches one of the two 11u teams in the organization, realizes the craziness of travel baseball and how it can place young players in situations where they don’t feel comfortable or feel pressure to perform to keep their role on the team. With an established model of no player cuts and a dedication to long-term player development and family relations, the Sluggers are able to create a fun environment that emphasizes player growth over wins and losses.
“Since we are not focused on the win at all costs mentality, it keeps the tension out of the organization and allows us to focus more on our true goal of developing them as players and as young men,” York said. “We are big on legacies in terms of being a family driven organization and we do try to make as much effort as possible to find space for siblings in the organization. Those relationships are more important than the wins and losses.”
Coaches also understand the importance of building comradery within the organization and utilize older siblings and players as teachers and role models for the younger players in the program. Younger teams will often watch or participate in practices with older players and coaches make a point to have the teams watch one another play. Leadership, responsibility and maturity are all learned while players also pick up on key aspects of team and skill development that spark their drive to get better.
“For them to be able to go out and see an older kid who can drive the ball to deep left field or pull it to right field or see the speed of the pitching and base running, it really keeps them alive and into the game and it makes them hungry for the next level,” said Sluggers coach James Spagnoli. “It keeps them playing the game and it gives them something to strive toward.”
In future season, the Sluggers will look to add more teams and find ways to further the impact in the community while still providing tremendous value for their families. The program is also working on developing different ways to give their players cost-efficient methods of exposure and recruiting tools that will help showcase players to college scouts.
“It's really about helping that player achieve their next step in life. If they really want to see the next level of baseball, we need to prepare and educate them and we need to have the tools built in with us to help them get there,” said Spagnoli. “At the end of the day, it's all about the player and we want to do anything we can to give the players the best experience.”
For more information on the Sluggers organization, visit www.sluggers.org.