Growing up playing softball in the Oil Region, former Titusville Rocket pitcher Emily Aul saw a need in her community for a competitive feeder program for the high school team based in town.
Yes, there was the Tri-City Thunder travel softball program, that was started by former Rocket head coach Jim Becker and current Franklin High School coach Ed Winger, and Aul was a player in the organization. However, the players on traveling softball teams, like Tri-City Thunder, were joining forces from across county lines.
Aul and others in the area now feel the time has come to start something new for the girls in Titusville and the neighboring communities that is closer to home. With the help of Aul’s father, Mark Aul, and Trevis McGarvie, the Oil Valley Lightning travel softball program is set to strike the Oil Region this fall.
This new organization aims to give local 8 to 16-year-old girls that have a passion for the sport of softball the opportunity to develop their skills, contend in highly competitive tournaments and build a strong bond with their teammates that can hopefully translate to success at the high school level.
The aforementioned trio were coaches of the Titusville Middle School softball team this past season, and they saw the opportunity to keep those girls together on a team that wouldn’t require them to travel to Cranberry, Meadville or Oil City to keep playing competitive softball over the summer.
“The timing was perfect,” said McGarvie, who is the vice president of the program and has a daughter currently playing for the Cranberry Chaos travel softball team. “We’ve been wanting to do it for a couple of years, but we didn’t have anyone like Mark and Emily that were willing to step up and do it. I saw an opportunity to talk to them this year about it and they were right on board. It didn’t take any persuading.”
Currently enrolled at Edinboro University and a member of the Fighting Scots softball team, Emily Aul, at 19 years old, is leading the program as the president and plans to be a head coach of one of the teams. When asked about how she is going to balance her commitment to school and this new organization, she pointed right to her dad, who will be her right-hand man, saying “this guy right here.”
“I’m playing softball in school, and I’m dual-majoring with a minor, so it’s going to be a lot,” Emily Aul said. “But, I’ve had a passion for this and I’m going to find a way to make it work. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Titusville already has Little League Softball, or “rec softball,” as others may know it. While “rec softball” may provide a laid-back environment for girls to learn the game and be active during the spring and summer months, travel softball requires a much larger commitment from not only the players but their families, which Mark Aul is well aware of.
“It’s for kids that have the passion to play in high school and the passion to play in college someday,” Mark Aul said. “It’s definitely a step above rec. You have to be more committed. It costs money to play, and the parents really finance it. You have to have a commitment from the parents, as well.”
Through the Oil Valley Lightning, the goal is to establish a feeder program, similar to how the Titusville YMCA swimming program prepares swimmers to be ready at the varsity level in high school.
As it stands currently, softball players have multiple coaches that teach the game in their own way as they move up through the age groups in various leagues before playing in high school. The Oil Valley Lightning has hopes to work with the high school coaching staff in order to provide consistency in how the future of Titusville softball is developed.
“The thing that made the Thunder program work so well was that Jim Becker and Ed Winger were both high school coaches,” Mark Aul said. “It was very easy for them because what those kids were learning at a young age were the same things they were working on in high school. That’s why it worked. Here, what we want to do is get the high school coaches involved to the point where we can learn how they want the girls to play as far as mechanics and fundamentals so that can feed right through to the high school program.”
Emily Aul was a member of the 2017 PIAA Class 3A District 10 Champion Titusville Rockets, and she played along side of some of her championship teammates on the Tri-City Thunder teams. She wants to recreate that type of team chemistry that the Rockets had during their championships run.
“The year we won District 10, everyone was against us,” Emily Aul said. “No one thought we were going to win. We were the underdogs and that bonded us. We all wanted the same thing. On the field, we were a team and we had a common goal. We were there for each other. I’d like to see our girls improve, not only as softball players, but also bond together as a team.”
The first tryouts for the Oil Valley Lightning teams will be held on Sunday at 6 p.m., at the Ed Myer Complex, with registration beginning at 5:15. Three additional tryouts will be held on Aug. 1, Aug. 4 and Aug. 11, at the same time and location. The hope for the organization to have at least a team in the 10U, 12U and 14U divisions heading into the next tournament season.
“We have enough committed and qualified coaches to do at least three teams, with other candidates out there that we could add another team if need be,” McGarvie said.
Those interested in more information about Oil Valley Lightning softball can contact Emily Aul, at (814) 493-4961, or message the organization’s Facebook page, “Titusville Area Travel Softball Team.” Representatives from the organization will also be at the Pleasantville Festival through Saturday providing free face painting with a donation and selling baked goods.