Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: The #GirlsofSummer series follows the Purple Parrots, a t-ball team in the Chillicothe area.
CHILLICOTHE — Eric Cox can’t help but chuckle when talking about his latest coaching gig.
Chances are, if you coached the group of four and five-year-olds that he does, you’d smile, too.
Back in the fall, Eric introduced the public to the Orange Iguanas — a youth soccer team that adopted their name from Nickelodeon’s Legends of the Hidden Temple, a throwback television game show that ran from 1993 to 1995 if you’re memory serves you correctly.
This spring, he went back to the well and presented the Purple Parrots, a t-ball squad that played in the Chillicothe Youth Softball League and derived their name from the same channel.
On Eric’s roster were eight girls, including his daughter Olivia … who just wanted to be beside her dad, no matter the sport or venue.
“She’s the most anxious kid on the team,” he said of his daughter, with a smile. “She’s scared to death of everything but she loves to play. It’s always like, ‘Dad, I’ll play if you coach.’ She wanted me to coach gymnastics … that wasn’t happening.”
While the thought of Eric coaching gymnastics alone is an entertaining one to say the least, the fact is he’d probably be good at that, too.
That’s not measuring his coaching skills based on any sort of team success. The way he cares about the girls and puts his heart into leading them into battle … that’s where he thrives.
“This was our second year in the Chillicothe Youth Softball League,” he said. “It was such a great year. They all kind of went to school together and we just wanted to see how we could grow as a team. I always tell the parents at the beginning of the year, ‘Hopefully, your kid learns something about t-ball, but hopefully the make some friends as well.’”
Olivia, who’s shy nature defines her, fit into that mold perfectly.
“She worked and worked to hit the ball and our last week, she hit the ball into the outfield grass off of coach pitch [instead of the tee],” Cox said. “That’s a big mark for her. She just loves playing and being out here. That’s what it’s about for her.”
While Olivia’s smile seemed to grow exponentially when she saw her dad coming towards her, her teammate Kendall Martin was just happy to be out of the house.
“Kendall is the happiest kid in the world,” Eric said. “I talked to her mom and said, ‘I’ve never seen her cry. It just doesn’t happen.’ Everyday Kendall is here, she’s like, ‘Coach, I can’t believe we’re here. This is like the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.’”
To describe Kendall’s personality, all you’d have to do is go back and ask Eric about the team’s final game this summer. Kendall wasn’t feeling well, physically or emotionally.
“Our last game, she was so sick and she told me, ‘I don’t feel good and I think it’s because this is our last game and I’m going to miss all my friends,’” he said. “That’s just kind of who she is. She makes everybody else around her smile.”
Then, there’s Lyla Nicely, who had never played t-ball before this summer. Turns out, she’s a quick learner.
“Great kid. She had never played before. She was aggressive at the end of the season but we had to work on that with her,” Eric said. “At the beginning of the year, she would lay back and not do much and then, near the end, she was running after the ball and was 2-for-2 at the plate. That wasn’t possible a month ago. It’s fun to see when the practice finally takes effect.”
Eric said the team practiced on “putting their shovels in the dirt” before every pitch. Lila caught on and made sure her teammates were in their correct defensive stances.
“We would always tell the kids to put their shovel, or their glove, in the dirt,” Cox said. “Lila was always there to remind everybody else to do that.”
But, like any four or five-year-old, Olivia, Kendall and Lyla’s favorite part of each game or practice was after the final pitch had taken place. That’s called snack time.
“We had a ton of fun throughout the year and we tried to make it fun for the girls,” Eric said. “Always, the best part of any game or practice was the treat afterwards. At the end of the year, we had the ice cream truck show up to our practice. I don’t know who was more excited … the girls, who were jumping up and down, or me, who was doing the same.”
In Part Two of SOSA’s #GirlsofSummer series, you’ll meet three new Parrots. Make sure and ‘like’ our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter (@ohio_authority) so you don’t miss it.