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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Two schools merging softball teams for upcoming season another step in a lifetime journey for one coach

By: Rick Harvey - Exclusive to Today in Fort Smith

As Coach Madison Lomon gazes across the empty field at Arkoma, she reflects on a journey that has brought her to a place she never anticipated.

A 2019 graduate of the University of Arkansas- Fort Smith, Lomon initially ventured into human services before realizing her true calling lay elsewhere. Following in the footsteps of her family’s long lineage of educators and coaches, she embraced a kindergarten teaching position at Arkoma, despite her initial resolve to forge a different path.

Now, as she approaches her fourth year at Arkoma Public Schools, Lomon is transitioning from teaching kindergarten to instructing junior high and high school students in alternative education. Her unexpected foray into coaching began with an assistant softball coach position, which quickly evolved into a passion she couldn’t imagine abandoning.

Facing a pivotal moment, Coach Lomon was tasked with determining the future of softball at Arkoma – a school situated at the easternmost and northernmost point of Leflore

County, Oklahoma.

The critical decision to merge the softball teams of Arkoma and the adjacent Cameron community emerged from a pressing need, as both schools grappled with alarmingly low player counts. Coach Lomon and Coach Justin Downs, from Cameron, found themselves navigating uncharted waters as they merged their teams, confronting the challenges of differing coaching styles and philosophies.

“It benefits the students because it gives them a team to play for, and it benefits

the schools by letting two great coaches pick each other’s brains and learn from each

other,” said Coach Downs.

Coach Lomon added, “The process of selecting players is going to be the same

process that it would be if we had not consolidated. The best 9 players will be on the

field. I think this is forcing the girls to actually compete for a position for once, which is

something they typically do not have to do considering we usually always have a very low

number of players on the team.”

For Coach Lomon, the consolidation is an opportunity to instill a competitive spirit in her

players. She emphasizes the importance of earning one’s position on the team, a concept

previously foreign due to the small team sizes. Both coaches agree that the best players will take the field, fostering a healthy competitive environment.

Lomon and Downs bring complementary strengths to the table, each taking the lead in

areas where they excel. Their laid-back demeanors and aligned views on game strategy and

player responsibilities promise a smooth co-coaching experience.

“I think both myself and Coach Downs have different things that we, as coaches,

bring to the table that will be beneficial to the team. There are things that I feel more

confident in teaching, and there are things that he feels more confident in teaching,”

Lomon shared.

Beyond improving records, the coaches aspire to instill a winning mindset in their

players, hoping to ignite a passion for victory and, by extension, a deeper love for softball.

They aim to build a sense of pride within the team that transcends the sport itself.

“Our hope is that a little taste of winning will give them that push to want to win,

and fall in love with winning. Which in turn will help them to fall in love with softball

more, and which in turn, will begin to improve both programs in more ways than just

winning. A sense of pride is what we are hoping to build,” expressed Coach Lomon.

The communities of Arkoma and Cameron have rallied behind the consolidated team,

eager to support the cultural shift. Practicalities such as practice locations and transportation are being addressed with fairness and flexibility in mind, with plans to alternate practice weeks between the two schools. In a symbolic gesture of unity, the team will don neutral-colored uniforms that incorporate both schools’ colors, representing their individual identities while celebrating their combined strength.

Senior Logan Watkins from Arkoma shared her thoughts on the consolidation:

“I think it’s great in the way it benefits both teams to have the opportunity to

actually have a season, especially for seniors. It helps having enough to play if someone

is sick or something. I feel like they (Cameron) can bring things to the table that can help

us and vice versa! I’m really hoping for a ‘family’ feel that I have not felt in the past. I

feel it makes a huge difference in the way you play. I’m so ready for this season and I say

‘bring them on’ and I will be ready to welcome them!”

While the consolidation serves as a temporary solution for the season, its success could

pave the way for a more permanent arrangement. The coaches are optimistic, ready to adapt and learn from the experience as they embark on this collaborative journey. The season’s outcome will hinge on the players’ and communities’ responses to the consolidation, as well as the team’s ability to navigate the inevitable changes. With confidence in their approach, the coaches believe these changes will prove beneficial for all involved.

The one thing this writer knows is this: There will be joy in Arkoma and Cameron this season as the consolidated nine take the field. As we ‘slide’ into the new season, let’s ‘catch’ the spirit of unity and ‘pitch’ in for a home run of a year. After all, in the game of softball and life, it’s not just about how you swing, but how you ‘field’ the love of the game and each other.

Batter up for a season of wins, grins, and kinship.

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