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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Volunteer helps build softball family at Conrad

By Travis L. Brown

Two Octobers ago, Greg Smith was introduced to the Dallas Conrad athletics program while serving as a volunteer hot dog griller for the school’s homecoming football game.

The cookout was part of a call to community action from Smith’s pastor at Fellowship Bible Church, and it was that evening Smith began his volunteer work with Conrad.

Smith spent much of his two daughters’ lives sitting on a softball bucket catching bullpen sessions for the two pitchers. He then remained in the game by giving private pitching lessons, so naturally he offered his expertise to the Conrad softball team.

With Smith working with Conrad's pitchers, the Chargers made the UIL softball playoffs for the first time in 2011 and returned this year. They have a bi-district game Friday against Seagoville.

Smith has helped starter Asyia Summers transform from a hard thrower with a tendency to throw one over the backstop to one of the best pitchers in DISD, throwing two no-hitters in her senior season.

“When I first started I couldn’t throw a strike and didn’t know what a strike was,” Summers said. “When Mr. Smith came he taught me all these routines to teach me how to throw pitches. Lately I’ve been throwing strikes.”

Smith dons catcher's shin guards with cargo shorts for Conrad’s practices, taking his position sitting on a bucket off to the side of the diamond with Summers or one of the other pitchers.

Two seasons into Smith's tenure as a volunteer at practice, the pitchers have their form down and even a couple of pitches in their routine. Now, he works on the mental side of the game as well as the mental side of life.

Both Smith and Summers recalled the final half-inning of the second district game against Dallas Woodrow Wilson as a turning point for the Chargers. In its five-year history, Conrad had never beaten Woodrow.

Summers took her place in the circle with Conrad up 9-8 and couldn’t help but tear up, feeling the weight of her team on her shoulders.

“I just wanted to win,” Summers said. “I couldn’t live with us losing this game again.”

Conrad forced a Woodrow runner into a rundown on the third-base line and Summers relied on instinct to cover home plate and tag out the runner for the last out of the game, overcoming her momentary lack of confidence.

“[Smith] always taught us to keep a good attitude on the field and off the field and to just always have fun,” Summers said. “Even when you don’t need it or if you do, he says to just always have fun.”

Fun isn’t just limited to the softball field for these players.

Smith used the help of Lake Highlands Young Life to send Summers and several of her teammates to a week-long camp that Summers called the best week of her life.

In turn, a team with difficulties coming together as a unit has become a family with the help of a man that had no affiliation with Conrad, just a willingness to serve.

“Last year we got this wonderful man who said he could show our girls how to pitch if he could volunteer,” coach Erin Stinnette said. “He’s been able to help the bonding of the team. The demographics of our team are very diverse, but he’s made us one family.”