Bobcats girls make history

By Brian Smiley, Brantford Expositor

A group of Brantford Bobcats girls softball players has made history again.

The players, with 1992 birth years, are thought to be the only ones in history to win Canadian championships at four different age groups and late last year they achieved another first as they became the initial team inducted into the Provincial Women's Softball Association hall of fame.

Todd Bannister, who coached the team to national titles in the under-14 and under-16 age groups, said the accomplishments of the team are monumental.

"I don't know if you'll see it anywhere," Bannister said when asked whether their accomplishments would be duplicated. "It's a pretty special thing to be able to win a national championship at that many different levels.

"There will always be teams that maybe would achieve national championships at a couple of levels but to have it over four, I think is a really huge accomplishment."

The Bobcats also won Canadian championships at the under-19 and under-21 age categories.

When Bannister started with the team, he saw the potential based on the players' overall ability.

"They're a really athletic group of young ladies, not just in softball but in basketball and hockey and we had a figure skater," he said. "They were just all excellent athletes. They had that predisposition to being great athletes.

"They were like a family. They got along extremely well and I think that was part of their success, too."

By the end of their first championships season, Bannister witnessed a team that dominated its opposition.

"In their under-14 year they went undefeated against teams in their same age bracket," said the coach, who was at the helm that year when the team captured its title as Brantford hosted the national championship.

"They didn't lose a game all year to teams that were the same age bracket as they were. They were very dominant. That opened my eyes to the potential they had."

By the end of his run with the team, and watching them continue with Dave Bourne, Erin Forman and Roger Davis as their coaches at the under-19 and under-21 national levels, Bannister knew they were in the midst of something special.

"I would think that their longevity probably demonstrates how successful they've been over many different levels," said Bannister, now the women's softball coach at Mohawk College.

"There have probably been other teams that have been as successful at the national level but not over the course of a seven-year period."

After winning the title in Brantford, the Bobcats captured Canadian championships in Regina (under-16), Winnipeg (under-19) and Saint John (under-21).

Forman came on at the under-16 level and she said the players were great from the start.

"They were an awesome group to work with," she said. "Todd had actually brought me in to train them in the winter. Then he asked me to help coach. They were so open to having instruction. They were sponges.

"They had never really had that female role model, I guess. It was an amazing experience for myself."

Along with Forman, the team's other coaches in its later years included Dave Bourne and Roger Davis. When the new coaches took over, Forman said there wasn't external pressure to do what the team had done in the past.

"The parents never gave you that feeling," she said. "I've never had a better group of parents that I've ever coached, either. They were completely supportive from the beginning. They were really there for their kids as well as the other parents' kids. It wasn't just about their own.

"It was a group that wanted their kids to love playing a sport and the rest took care of itself. I really think that contributed to their success, as well."

And when the dust settled, the players had four national titles.

"It's an amazing accomplishment," Forman said. "We've been saying for years that they should be inducted into some sort of hall of fame."

Brantford's Erika Polidori and Logan White, Six Nations' Carey-Leigh Thomas, Ancaster's Lindsay Hawyard and Woodstock's Taylor Scott were members of all four championship teams.

While their days of playing for the Bobcats are behind them, at least three are still going strong and Bannister would love to see them reach the ultimate goal.

"I know three of them are currently on the national team - Logan, Carey and Erika," Bannister said. "For them to be able to play at the pinnacle of the sport is fantastic for them individually and is a representation of the team, as well.

"Hopefully we'll be able to see the ladies in the Olympics one day."

Softball will return to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo after being taken off the table following the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

As for the team's legacy, Forman already sees it taking shape.

"They each had their personal success but it's nice for them to be recognized as a team and this organization as a whole," she said.

"We've kind of based our entire (Bobcats) organization around this team. My daughter is 11 years old and I coach the squirts and that's what they aspire to be - this Bobcats team."