From chaperoning school dances to cheerleading in the bleachers, too much parental participation can ring death knells for teen spirit.
This Big Brother sensation is sometimes exacerbated in the hothouse of high school sports, where there have been enough incidents of parents punching, tackling or otherwise walking tall to fill a 10-part series of “When Dads Attack” DVDs.
Columbia senior Meaghan Touchette is lucky. Her father, Dave, has been a head coach in high school, guiding the Eagles’ boys basketball team to the Class A Elite Eight in 2001. He has been around the block and knows what makes a high school athlete tick.
The experience has come in handy in the dugout as an assistant coach with the Columbia softball team and Meaghan is glad she had dad with her.
“It’s great pretty much all the time,” Touchette said. “Every once in a while it will get a little tense, but the majority of the time it is really great because he helps me a lot with everything.
“Whenever something is wrong he knows what I need to fix and that helps a lot. He knows when I get stressed out and worried and he knows how to calm me down and get my mindset right.”
Touchette has taken all of the knowledge gleamed from her years by her dad’s side and turned herself into a standout all-around athlete on the softball diamond.
The most important lesson she learned was about work ethic, that critical time spent in the batting cage and fielding ground balls, immersing herself in the game.
“She works her tail off,” Columbia coach Rhonda Major said. “She works constantly to be the best she can possibly be. She puts in a lot of extra time because that’s how much she loves the game. She is all around dedicated to the game and plays with heart all the time.”
At the plate, Touchette has a true hitter’s approach. She seldom has poor at-bats or makes herself an easy out for opposition pitchers.
As a senior, she hit .467 with 10 doubles, 35 runs scored and 28 more driven in. She more than held her own.
“She is very disciplined at the plate,” Major said. “It is not about her, it is about getting base hits and whatever it takes for the team. That is one of the things that makes her such a great ballplayer, because she cares about her teammates and wants to win.”
As the Eagles’ second baseman, she formed a dynamic duo with shortstop and fellow senior Renee Ribolzi. With senior third baseman Jordyn Amos and sophomore first baseman Savannah Wittenbrink, Columbia’s infield had opposition batting orders on lockdown all season long.
Preparation and practice are the keys to Touchette’s work in the field.
“Defensively, Meaghan and Renee work so well,” Major said. “They communicate with everybody and they are always picking each other up, picking everybody up, really. She works hard and puts in the extra time on defense, too.
“She just loves the game and I think it shows in the way she plays. Everyone knows that Meaghan is a die-hard when it comes to softball.”
Knowing that Touchette and Co. were behind them helped talented Columbia pitchers Kaitlin Grohman and Brianna Weilbacher on the mound.
When in doubt, the hurlers knew they could throw strikes and let the defense take care of business.
“We told the pitchers to let the defense go to work for you,” Major said. “That is one of the good things about having upperclassmen on the infield. They communicate really well with the pitchers and I think that has really helped out the pitchers, taking some heat off their backs.”
Major said that Touchette stepped up and assumed a leadership role as a senior, becoming someone the younger girls in the program could look up to. From day one, the coach preached unity and togetherness and Touchette led by example, leaving a legacy the underclassmen would do well to follow.
The Eagles (25-6) knew they had a special group with loads of potential. The season came to a close Saturday with a 7-5 loss to Carterville in the finals of the IHSA Class 2A sectional at Nashville, but Columbia had captured the regional title in Red Bud and there was no reason for the Eagles to hang their heads.
They had also claimed victory in the Pinckneyville Tournament on April 2, knocking off the host Panthers as well as tough challengers from Cobden and Altamont. The event had been a windmill the Eagles were tilting at for four years before finally breaking through.
“The Pinckneyville Tournament was a big deal for us,” Touchette said. “We have wanted to win that tournament for the past four years and it was one of our big goals as a team this year. The other goal was the regional championship.”
Touchette will continue her softball career in the fall at Lakeland College in Matoon. She met Lakeland coach Nic Nelson in eighth grade when Nelson held an elite event and has kept in contact, seeing Nelson when his select team played hers in the summers.
Touchette said she chose the junior college route so she could play right away, rather than riding pine as she might have had to at a four-year school.
“If I had gone to a bigger school, I might not have been able to play all four years, but this way I can get a ton of experience,” Touchette said. “Hopefully I’ll transfer to a bigger school where I will get to play.”
From the time she started playing tee ball at the age of five until the present day, Touchette has always been someone who will get her uniform dirty diving to make plays or sliding into a bag, someone who reads the game and understands the nuances of different situations. She is a natural who put in the sweat equity to maximize her God-given natural athleticism.
Along the way, she learned difficult, subtle lessons about camaraderie. It isn’t always easy to be full of the fight you need for the fray of varsity play and rein that fire in for the sake of clubhouse morale, but Columbia’s Class of 2011 did a bang-up job of treading the line.
“The entire team got along so well and there was really no fighting,” Touchette said. “When there was, we got it out there and got it over with in the same day. It actually came pretty easy for us because the seniors know each other so well. We have been together since sixth grade and it comes pretty naturally.”