The New England Storm Junior Olympic softball program continues to thrive and grow. It is the softball equivalent to AAU baseball and basketball, as well as Club soccer.
John Gambale is a college softball coach at Eastern Nazarene College and is the director of the Storm (also USA Massachusetts Deputy Commissioner Jr Olympic Softball). “This all began when my eldest daughter, Marissa, was 9 years old (who is now 29) and wanted to keep playing ball after her Little League season ended in mid-June. JO (Junior Olympic) ball was not prevalent in this area. A team out of Dracut, offered her a spot. “It didn’t make much sense to me to do all of that driving for a 9-year-old to play softball,” Gambale says, “so I decided to get 12 Swampscott girls together and try it ourselves.”
The program progressed so well that, over time, it grew and grew. “It’s not for everyone,” Gambale says. “It takes up a lot of their weekends, which is when the tournaments are, so I needed to expand to other communities, preferably in this area.”
Fast-forwarding to today, the Storm now fields 11 U12-U18+ ages JO softball teams. “I’m pretty particular in my coaching methods, which is a high focus on improving all of the players, which usually boils down to fundamentals, so I’ve been very concerned about what coaches I invite in. I want consistency, a strong effort and in an enjoyable atmosphere,” Gambale says. “We have a coaching curriculum that all must follow. This is a tremendous aid in delivering the message”.
The teams are comprised of over 140 girls from nearly 60+ cities and towns and 4 states, all improving and competing at a high level of softball. “We start our indoor practices in the Fall, before conducting 14 weekly sessions at Tufts and Brandeis Universities, with members of their coaching staffs assisting us, then we head to New Englands Premiere Sportsplex and A's Baseball & Softball Center.
“Also, as we’ve grown, so has our reputation. I now have regular dialogue with many D1, 2 and 3 softball coaches, who are anxious for my referrals. Also, our new working agreement with Suffolk University Head Softball Coach and Assistant Athletic Director is another tool for the girls. Jackie, does the college process daily with prospective student-athletes and is now bringing this great knowledge to the Storm.
"Beginning with the 2012 season, Tufts Head Softball Coach Cheryl Milligan and Lauren Ebstein, along with their staff, are now Storm consultants involved with player development. Also, the Tufts facility (23,000 sq. ft.) is a fantastic venue to conduct our practices. And their Tuft’s softball teams recently won the NCAA Division III National Softball Championship, 3 of the past 9 years!!
And now, we also have Brandeis University Head Softball Coach, Emily Kraytenberg on our staff. The Storm will also be conducting indoor practices, under her tutelage, at the state-of-art Red Auerbach Gymnasium at Brandeis.
Additionally, personally I am in my 2nd season as a Softball Coach at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, MA. Our team is comprised of players from all over the United States including Hawaii, California, Nevada, Texas, and Pennsylvania. We won our league title this past season for the 1st time in the schools history!!! This also enabled us to play in the NCAA D3 Softball Tournament, another first for the school.
The bottom line is that these young athletes are not going to make a living playing softball, so we want to help them with college searches, while providing them with a high-level instruction program in which we have two themes. These are that, ‘No team should work harder than us,’ and ‘We must enjoy ourselves!’”
John Gambale is the director of the New England Storm Junior Olympic Softball.