DARIEN, Conn. -- When Paul Fairleigh volunteered to be an assistant coach for his daughter Lily's youth softball team, he figured it was a one- or two-year commitment. Five years later, he's still behind the bench and enjoying it more than ever. And the team, sponsored by Gofer Ice Cream , recently completed its best season yet, compiling a 12-3 record en route to the Triple A league championships, where it finished as runner-up. And since those three losses came by a total of four runs, it means the girls were in the thick of every game.
But more gratifying than the wins and losses was the progress the girls have made in the five years Fairleigh has been coaching. "You can see them get better, year to year and game to game," he says. This season was particularly challenging, since the rainy weather washed out all but two practices, engendering some creative compensatory moves. "We'd show up an hour before our games to practice," says Fairleigh. In addition, members of the Darien High School team, which experienced unprecedented success itself, came to conduct instructional clinics. "The girls got to see that they could continue playing softball in high school," Fairleigh says.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Fairleigh and his fellow coaches was finding enough playing time for all the team members. "Everyone wanted to play every position," he says. Fortunately, one of the other coaches worked out a rotation that provided equal competitive opportunities for all team members.
One thing that was a no-brainer was where to hold post-game celebrations. "When your sponsor is an ice cream store, that's a pretty easy decision," says Fairleigh.
It will also be an easy decision for Fairleigh to return to coach his sixth season. "It's been a great experience," he says. "You really get caught up in it."
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