Champion’s humble ace


Weaver’s calm style has created a softball dynasty

By MIKE McLAIN

sports@vindy.com

CHAMPION

Cheryl Weaver graduated from Chalker High School in Southington and for the last 19 school years has been the softball coach for the Champion Golden Flashes.

In reality, Weaver is most at home standing in the third base coaching box at Firestone Stadium in Akron, where the groundskeepers are probably tired of smoothing out her footprints every June.

Think of a successful coach in any of the area high school sports, and Weaver can one up them in every comparison (not that it’s important to the humble coach).

The Flashes, who have won seven state championships, will go after number eight when they meet North Union in a Division III semifinal on Friday at 12:30 p.m.

Weaver, who assumed the coaching duties in 2000, has been involved in four of those state titles — 2011, 2012, 2015 and last season. She also led Champion to the state tournament in 2004 and 2006.

“I sent her a text that said, ‘There are three things you can count on – The Lord is on His Throne, the sun will come up tomorrow, and the Lady Flashes will be in the final four,’” said former Poland softball coach Reid Lamport, pastor at Church of The Rock in Poland. “I coached against her in summer ball and travel ball and in my years in high school, and I can’t think of a better coach that I would want my daughters playing for.”

It’s not easy singling out a few reasons for Weaver’s success. She’d be the first to credit the work of the parents and the community for developing players at a young age. By the time they reach Weaver as freshmen, they know what’s expected of them to continue the school’s rich tradition.

But it’s not quite that simple. Unrefined talent can easily wither on a vine. Weaver takes that talent and molds it into something that grows and flourishes each year.

“All that success, a lot of people say they have good players,” said LaBrae boys basketball coach Chad Kiser, an assistant to Weaver when his daughter Mackenzie played for the Flashes from 2010-13. “No one is gifted with that many great players. She still wins every year.

“She knows talent well and she gets along with many different personalities. As a coach, you try to be a psychologist. She’s been able to get the most out of her talent.”

What you notice first about Weaver is the consistency of her demeanor. Nothing throws her off stride, which carries over to the way the players handle the emotional flows of a season. The thing you keep hearing is that she lets the girls be themselves, only tugging on the reins when necessary.

“I try to stay even keel,” said Weaver, who recently reached the 400-win mark. “My big thing with them is if you show me respect, I’ll show them all the respect in the world.

“We try to have an open relationship. If they need to talk about something, I’m there for them. I think they know that’s the way I am, and that I’ll bend over backward if they need something. I’m not going to cut them down in any way or act like I’m judging them.”

Weaver admits that a female coaching girls can be advantageous.

“I think a woman coach picks up more if there’s a problem within the group or a girl herself,” Weaver said. “A lot of the men are focused more on the Xs and Os. You have to be focused on that, but I think a woman might pick up a little more in what might be going on in the girl’s life.

“I’ve always said about what it takes in dealing with boys and girls. Boys feel good when they play good. Girls have to feel good to play good.”

For Weaver, ego needs to be checked at the door, and that includes herself. She has been willing to accept a steady stream of parents that have shown a desire to join her staff when their daughters played.

In situations where the parent’s daughter is a pitcher, Weaver has allowed some of them to call the pitches. Among those in the past were Larry Seafert (daughter Lauren), Jeff White (daughter Morgan) and Brent Swipas (daughter Lindsay). Perry Howell (daughter Sophie) and Steve Smith (daughter Allison) are calling pitches for their daughters this season.

Weaver admits she’s not an expert in pitching, which means the help of a father that knows every detail about his daughter is invaluable. There’s another reason why Weaver occasionally gives pitching control to a parent.

“Another way to look at it is they can’t say I called the wrong pitch,” she said. “Now it’s between them.”

Part of the respect Weaver shows the players is the freedom she gives them during games. When a catcher has shown the ability to call pitches, she’s handed that responsibility. During a difficult moment at a state game a few years ago, she didn’t visit the pitcher’s circle when the players gathered there. Asked about it afterwards, Weaver said, “I didn’t think I needed to.”

“That’s speak to her humility,” Lamport said. “She doesn’t have to be the one on the platform saying, ‘I’m the head coach.’ I’m sure she keeps everyone under wraps. Allowing others to be a part of it is empowering them.”

The impression shouldn’t be that Weaver doesn’t excel at strategy. When power-hitting shortstop Megan Turner stepped to the plate in a recent game, Weaver, noticing the infield playing back, called for a bunt despite the fact that Turner homered in her previous at-bat. Turner was ruled out on a tag by the first baseman, although it appeared the tag was never made.

“You’re not going to hit a home run every time,” Weaver said. “You have to play the game so that if you need to, you move kids over and get them into scoring position. Then any little thing and you score.”

Kiser watched Weaver in action on a regular basis during four seasons. He’s among her many fans.

“She’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been with, bar none,” Kiser said. “I had a great time coaching with Coach [Bill] Bohren [in football] and [basketball] Coach [Marty] Hill at Windham. She’s up there with the top coaches.”

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