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After a back injury stunted Melissa "Skeeter" Gentile's playing career at the University of Michigan in 2000, she went into coaching. Within six years, she was head coach at Jacksonville University. Gentile is now director and head instructor at the Fastpitch Learning Academy. She will be one of the coaches at the 2009 Under Armour All-American Game at Disney's Wide World of Sports on July 21. This year's event will be shown on ESPNU on July 25 at 7 p.m. ET.
ESPN RISE: What was your experience like at the inaugural Under Armour All-America Softball Game last year?
Melissa Gentile: I thought it was an incredible event. It was really unique to be a part of and having it there at Disney was a huge bonus with so many different things to do. It carried over into the Under Armour game with everything being first class, having it televised on ESPNU and having the commentators talking to the kids. It's something that they'll always remember.
RISE: What are the players like at this event? Gentile: The level of athlete that's there is great. They're fun to coach, they're fun to be around. There's never a moment where you're uttering that word that sometimes coaches say in practice 100 times, which is "hustle." They're diving everywhere, they're sprinting everywhere and everything is done at 100 percent.
RISE: What impression do you try to leave as a coach? Gentile: One, to leave everything on the field, energy-wise and with your heart. When you walk off that field, you can never have any regrets, whether it was a great outcome or a poor outcome. The second thing is to take any experience and enjoy it. Sometimes you get caught up in so many ancillary things that you forget to take a step back and realize, "Wow, this is a pretty cool moment in my life."
RISE: Why do you think softball is one of the fastest-growing sports? Gentile: It has a lot to do with how exciting our game is. The College World Series this year was the most entertaining sporting event that I have seen in a long time. You had so many dramatic, heroic, come-from-behind moments this year that it really drew you in even if you didn't know anything about the sport. People are exposed to it, and once they're exposed to it most of them are hooked.
RISE: How would you like to see softball grow? Gentile: I think our softball community as a whole is on the right track because we have two of the best spokespeople I think for our sport in Michele Smith and Jessica Mendoza. They are kind of leading the charge, along with all of the officials, to bring softball back to the Olympics. But it will take people getting involved and spreading the word to bring back softball. I think it's like a presidential race -- we want to be heard.