By Trish Mandes
Sports at George Mason University(GMU) continue the meteoric climb to glory with women’s professional softball. The Washington Glory, the National Pro Fastpitch softball league’s newest team, will call Mason home until 2011. Although new to our area, women’s professional softball got its start in the early 90s. In 2002, the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league was launched, and Major League Baseball joined hands with the league to promote female athletes and to encourage women’s interest in baseball. As a result, expansion teams attracted talented NCAA All-Americans, gold medalists from the 2004 Olympics, and of course enthusiastic fans.
Paul Wilson, the Washington Glory’s owner and general manager, is perhaps the most dedicated fan of all. A lifelong athlete, he operates a first class, on-line sporting goods store, Paul’s Sports (www.paulssports.com), which offers everything a softball or baseball player could ever hanker after. To show teams the quality and variety of his equipment, he began displaying it at area tournaments. When Wilson’s elementary school daughter accompanied him to a fastpitch exhibition, she fell in love with the sport. Within three days of that game, he hopped a plane to a league championship in Chicago, to discuss buying a team. Negotiations continued for a year and a half, and in January 2007 the Glory became his.
The Washington Glory has created an extraordinary win-win situation in Fairfax. To Wilson, the possibilities of building the team in partnership with GMU are unlimited. “Mason’s location in the heart of Fairfax is fantastic -- very convenient for our fans throughout Virginia, Maryland and the District ,” Wilson commented. “But it’s the university’s entrepreneurial spirit, talented administration, and gifted student body that really solidified our decision to play at Mason.” As the team grows, he foresees internships for students in nursing, sports medicine, physical education, marketing, management, communications, development, and finance. Bringing the Washington Glory to Mason has required major improvements in the university’s softball complex, located on Rapidan Road near Route 123—and a major investment in the community by Wilson. He has added lights for night games and television. stadium seating for 1,300 cheering fans, and temporary concession stands and bathrooms. Permanent structures will be installed in 2008.
The Washington Glory is made up outstanding athletes. Glory draftee pitcher Monica Abbott developed a huge fan club at the University of Tennessee, where she racked up the most wins in the history of the NCAA; she was the 2007 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year; and she’s on the 2008 Olympic training team. University of Alabama graduate Kelly Kretschman, an outfielder, won Olympic gold in 2004. Several members of the team have ties with Virginia. GMU graduate and Falls Church resident Christa Dalakis will play with the Greek Olympic team in 2008. Sara Larquier, a UVA alum, was the 2005 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. Rookie Jessica Moore, a native of Chesapeake, VA, just graduated from Liberty University, where she was named Big South Conference Player of the Year in 2005 and 2007. Farmville’s LaDonia Hughes, while at LSU, was in the SEC Top Ten in runs, hits, batting averages, triples, total bases and stolen bases.
Glory Head Coach Carie Dever-Boaz has led the team to spectacular wins since the exhibition game on May 27. The New England Riptide and the National Teams of China and Venezuela faltered as they faced power hitters Amber Jackson, Sara Larquier, Kelly Kretschman, Oli Keohohou, Jessica Moore, and Nichole Thompson. After the series with the Akron Racers in late June, the team sprinted into first place, with pitchers Desiree Serrano and Sarah Pauly smashing the competition. Matches with the Mid-Michigan Ice, the Philadelphia Force, the Chicago Bandits, and the Rockford Thunder are scheduled for later in the season
Wilson explains proudly that the Glory’s amazing athletes are true role models, demonstrating to girls of all ages the possibilities, opportunities, and success derived from hard work. If fans want a photograph, a handshake, a smile, or an autograph, they will get it from the Washington Glory. If fans want a closer look at this team, they can sign up for the recently announced Diamond Elite Training Summer Series, where individuals, small groups, and even teams will have the chance of a lifetime for one-on-one training or practice with Glory coaches and stars.
In six months, Paul Wilson’s accomplishments have been extraordinary – buying the Washington Glory, filling its roster with talented players, securing a home for the team, making significant upgrades to Mason’s softball complex, and starting a community-oriented sports program. How has he managed this feat? First, he credits the Fairfax County government, especially Chairman Gerry Connolly, for its support. Next, he praises the university. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the entire administration. How are we going to get this done?” he reflects, is their approach to any problem. “Without having George Mason, Fairfax County, and the League pulling in the same direction, we couldn’t have done it.” And what a glorious experience we fans would miss -- our chance to see a professional sports team in Washington that is winning!
For more information about the Washington Glory, the schedule, and tickets, please visit the Web site (www.washingtonglory.com).