Local Sports

Diamond delight

— A lifetime of baseball hasn’t quelled Rick Hitt’s passion for the sport.

Entering his 17th year as head coach at South Florida State College, Hitt has been organizing yearly baseball camps that aim to give youngsters an introduction to America’s pastime.

“We’ve had these camps for quite a while, but this is the first time we’ve combined it with Sebring’s baseball team,” Hitt said. “And it’s probably not the last time Jasone (DeWitt) and I will do this.”

One of the reasons for holding this year’s camp at Firemen’s Field was due to the renovations happening at Panther Field. But Hitt said Sebring’s central location in Highlands County serves campers and the parents well.

“We usually hold this at the college, but we want to include the tri-county area. That’s our primary motivation,” Hitt said. “And this has worked well as a place for kids to travel to. We want to encourage attendance not just from Sebring, but Lake Placid, Avon Park, and even the DeSoto and Hardee area. And for the kids who want to make the trip from Okeechobee and parts of southern Polk County like Frostproof.”

Like in year’s past, camp centered around teaching participants the basics of baseball. Campers worked on hitting and fielding, ran obstacle courses, and usually capped each day with a simulated baseball game. Camp started Monday and wraps up today.

“Baseball’s a game of repetition,” Hitt said. “The more you work at it, the better you’ll get. And we’ve got kids from 5-13 years old out here spending time at different stations.”

Unique to this year was the opportunity for campers to win prizes by correctly answering baseball trivia questions.

“I usually try and throw in something different each camp, something that will advance their thinking,” Hitt said.

On hand to aid Hitt were about a dozen players from both SFSC and Sebring. They helped coach kids through each station, ran drills with them, and even played a few games with them.

“His players and mine have done a great job of volunteering,” Hitt said. “It’s a great way to spend a week impacting the youth in our community. Anytime we can do that, it’s a good thing.”

Camp has also produced a handful of Panther and local high school players. It’s an accomplishment that Hitt’s proud of.

“A lot of our players come from the Heartland area,” he said. “It’s a neat transition to see them when they’re young kids and watch them grow. Some of our player now came through these camps. And I’m sure some that are here now will be playing baseball at Avon Park, Sebring, or Lake Placid some day. It’s a neat transition to watch and be a part of.”

Despite a modest turnout this year, Hitt said he’s thankful for the youngsters who came out.

“We’re hopeful that things will grow,” he said. “It’s great community effort to put this on. We really appreciate the kids who come here. They work hard for 90 minutes and stay hydrated — it’s a busy day for them. We enjoy it, though, because we’re impacting young people in a positive way. And what’s better than that?”