By Zack Huffman
From across the gymnasium at Mt. Zion High School, the narrow rod gripped in the hands of Joel Williams looks more like a broomstick handle than a bat. Williams stands focused and ready despite the jokes and laughter than surrounds him. The tiny white ball that sails out of the assistant coach's hand is barely discernible, nevertheless, Williams swings with all his might.
The crack, while not as satisfying at that which comes from a regulation bat and ball is sufficient to send Williams charging, full speed towards first base.
During spring, when high school sports move outdoors, opportunities for games and practice are often inevitably cut short due to inclement weather.
While rain would typically be enough for baseball practice to be cancelled, coach Art Wilkerson, who is new to Mt. Zion Baseball, thought the weather was the perfect opportunity for a good, old-fashioned game of Back Side, which is what Wilkerson calls his variation on baseball that involves replacing a tradition baseball with a tiny practice golf ball and a thin bat called a thunder stick.
The base running, pitching and scoring is much less important in Back Side than hitting and catching.
"It really just lets the kids work on their timing," said Wilkerson.
The enjoyment of the practice goes along with Wilkerson's approach to making sure Mt. Zion can remain competitive on the baseball diamonds of 4-AAAA. As long as the Bulldogs can play together and learn to believe in themselves, he believes success will come.
"I think we're off to a good start," he said. "If we can build confidence with our guys, we can go a long way."
In the first three weeks of the regular season, the Mt. Zion Bulldogs have opened with a solid 5-2 record, reversing last year's 2-5 start.
"We've had a good start so far. I've liked the way we've played," said Wilkerson. "We've got a good bunch of kids that want to be coached."
The Bulldogs opened the season by destroying Avondale 18-0 in just three innings. From there, the Bulldogs took down Morrow 21-6. Although Morrow struck back 5-3 the next day, Mt. Zion got back to winning, taking home victorys against Avondale, Towers and Lovejoy.
Although Mt. Zion's most recent game, which was against Hiram last week, Wilkerson believes the loss brought a valuable lesson along with it.