When a high school team takes a weeklong trip to a beachside paradise for a sporting event, results may vary.
With that in mind, Claremore baseball coach Jim Sherl wasn’t sure what to expect from his squad when made the 15-hour trek to Gulf Shores, Ala., for the Gulf Coast Classic last week.
Would he get the Zebras’ best effort, or would the trip be treated more as a vacation than a business trip?
“When you take a kid and put him on a bus for 15 hours, you put him in a hotel room with other high school kids, you take him out to dinner and get him out of the set routine and schedule, you never know what to expect out of them,” Sherl said. “They probably stay up a little bit too late when they’re supposed to be in bed, and they’re probably focused more on the beach and having fun than they are actual baseball.
“When you take these trips, it’s hard for a high school kid to focus up on baseball when you’d like them to.”
All those ingredients might not make for the team’s best performances of the season, especially so early in the season.
Then again, winning wasn’t the main objective of this spring break getaway.
No, what Claremore got while in the South was far more valuable than a few W’s on the schedule.
The time spent together in Alabama presented many bonding opportunities, which simultaneously bolstered team spirit, built comradery and gave the Zebras the shared experiences necessary in creating a culture of success.
Claremore baseball has been making these trips for years. It’s been to tournaments in Arizona, San Antonio, Arkansas, Pensacola and Alabama over the years, and this is the program’s second-straight visit to Gulf Shores.
Each journey reaped the desired results, regardless of the outcomes on the diamond.
“I know guys take these trips for all different reasons, but our big thing is team bonding,” Sherl said. “A lot of our baseball players play football, a lot them play basketball and a few of them wrestle. So a lot of the time, we’ll start our scrimmages and even start our games without all our players here. We take our spring break trip as a way for our team to come together.
“Of course we want to go win, we want to go play well and we want to compete against the best teams out there, but more so than that, we use it as team bonding.”
The Gulf Coast Classic wasn’t set to begin until Monday, March 18, but wanting to get a head start on the bonding activities planned, the Zebras departed Claremore on Friday night.
Their first major stop came on Saturday in Troy, Ala., — the location of Butter and Egg Adventures.
There, the team partook in several activities and initiatives at the park that were designed to foster teamwork.
“It’s a huge team-building place,” Sherl said. “They have rock-vclimbing walls, they have zip lines and they have a ropes course. It’s just challenging stuff, and at the end of it, we played laser tag.
“Sunday, we let the boys get out and an run and play around on the beach and have a good time playing there.”
From there, Claremore went on to play four games in three days, all of which resulted in losses.
The Zebras opened tournament play with a doubleheader against Brentwood (Tenn.) and Decatur (Ala.) on March 18, followed matchups with Har-Ber (Ark.) and Madison Academy (Ala.) the next two days.
Brentwood and Decatur snuck past Claremore, 4-2 and 11-8, respectively. The Zebras found themselves in another tight contest against Har-Ber, falling 5-2.
Sherl’s team capped off the tournament with an 11-5 loss to Madison Academy.
“We played four really good teams,” Sherl said. “Har-Ber is the defending Class 7A state champion, Decatur is the defending Class 6A champion in Alabama and Brentwood is in the state tournament every year. We played four games, and I thought we had a chance to win three of them.
“There were times we had a whole lot of freshmen on the field, and we had some younger guys getting some innings pitching just to see what they could do. We had kids out of position because our catcher was hurt and our backup catcher was at home hurt, so we were just throwing kids back behind the plate.”
Despite leaving the Gulf Coast without a win, Sherl said he was proud of everything the Zebras accomplished during the eventful trip.
“When it was time to play baseball, we had their full attention and full focus,” Sherl said. “When it was time to have fun, again we had their full attention and full focus.”
The players are now closer than they were at the beginning of the trip, and after playing some stiff out-of-state competition, Claremore is ready to get back into district play and start its run toward the state tournament.
The Zebras (4-4, 1-0) return to action at 5 p.m. today at Memorial. Claremore will close out the series with the Chargers on Wednesday at the same time.