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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Mothers as coaches, and vice versa

| May 10, 2020 1:11 AM

For a youth athlete, seeing a parent — in this case, their mother — in the stands can be a sign of reassurance, as well as inspiration.

“It means to me that she’s proud of what I’ve done,” said Hailey Lyons, a senior catcher for the Coeur d’Alene High softball team. “It’s always that reminder that she loves me, no matter what.”

There’s no more unconditional love than a mother’s love.

‘I could completely suck, and my dad could bite my head off — and my mom would say ‘You did awesome, you did amazing,’” said Hailey, who notes she tends to play better with her mom in the stands. “With her there I need to give 110 percent, because I’m not here to waste her time ... I can’t not do my best.”

Maddie Fernimen feels much the same way about her mother, Nathalie — heck, she feels that way about both parents, including her father, David.

“My mom and my dad are some of the hardest working people I know,” said Fernimen, a senior shortstop and teammate of Lyons’ on the Viking softball team. “My mom does all she can to come to my games, and so does my dad, and I’ve been really thankful for them, to give me the opportunities and to come watch me play. I travel a lot on my own (in summer ball), but I love having them at my games, just knowing they’re there to support me. It means a lot.”

When Mary Comack plays, subconsciously she’ll check in the stands to make sure her mother, Becky, is there.

“She always goes to the same spot on the field,” said Mary, a senior first baseman for the Coeur d’Alene softball team. “It’s like near the dugout, and I just know where to look.”

Mary says it means a lot knowing mom is in the stands, supporting her through good times and bad.

“I just know that when I lose I can look over and she’ll be smiling, no matter what,” Mary said.

THE VIKINGS’ softball coach, Bobbi Darretta, knows what that support is like from both sides.

Darretta pitched at Lake City High, leading the Timberwolves to the state 2001 title. But she says she couldn’t have done it without the support of her parents, Bob and Jackie Darretta, along the way.

“It was a good support system,” Darretta said of having her parents — and grandparents — at her games. “So I try to be that for the girls, especially the ones that don’t have that.”

Bobbi Darretta was born in San Jose, Calif., and grew up in nearby Milpitas. She started pitching at age 7, and made an age 11-12 all-star team at age 9.

Her mother encouraged her to be herself, but listen to her coaches.

“She was definitely my emotional rock,” Bobbi said, “and my dad was always there, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. He was at every pitching practice.”

At the house, they painted a pitching circle and a home plate into the concrete, and Bobbi pitched to her dad daily, when he got home from work.

The family moved to Coeur d’Alene prior to Bobbi’s sixth-grade year. That was right when Idaho was transitioning from slowpitch to fastpitch softball — but Bobbi already had years of fastpitch under her belt.

Bobbi said she would have been devastated had she not been able to play her senior year, feeling for the seniors she coaches who are missing out on their final year of high school ball.

And her mom?

“She would have been devastated with me,” Bobbi said. “When you love your kids and you see them hurting and bummed out, you kinda feel that too.”

BOBBI DARRETTA was hoping to coach her daughter’s T-ball team this summer.

Her daughter, Vinni Gongora, just turned 5. She’s been pitching since age 4, tagging along with mom, who gives private pitching lessons.

“And she knows what I’m asking of her, because she sees me ask it of everybody else,” Bobbi said.

Being a mom, she says, is sometimes not too different than being a coach.

“At my pitching lessons I tell them, ‘This is love, them being here, them pushing you,’” Bobbi said, referring to the parents of the pitchers. “That’s love. You guys don’t see it, because you feel like you’re just being pushed. But now that I’m a mom, I see that effort that they put in — them being there, catching them, making sure they have their uniforms washed, having the right food to eat, that support in the stands. That’s love. They don’t see it sometimes that way, as teenagers. They just expect parents to be like that and I tell them not all parents are like that. You need to realize that is a huge benefit to have.

“And I hope I’m that great with my kid. She’s going to be in dance, and soccer. I just want her to have fun, and I’ll be there for her along the way.”

Bobbi tells her players they will understand this more when they have kids.

“My dad put in hours and hours with me, and it got to the point where I was not going to start a game without him,” she said. “I would delay (the start of a game) ... and then once I saw my dad there it was like, ‘All right, I’m ready.’ He was my good-luck charm.”

She said if something wasn’t going well when she was pitching, Bob Darretta would go behind the backstop and watch, then signal to her how to fix it.

“Some of these girls get frustrated because their parents are pushing them, and I’m like, ‘They just want you to do your best,’” Bobbi Darretta said. “They don’t have to be here. They want to be here. This is them loving you.”

Their parents, and their coaches.

BOBBI’S PLAYERS see the mother in her as coach.

“She kinda just takes us all under her wing, like we are her kids,” Fernimen said. “You can really see that she cares, not just about how we play, but how we are as people. She’ll pushes us to compete with each other, and she just creates a fun environment. And I think she’ll do well for as long as she wants to stay at Coeur d’Alene.”

Lyons said she and her best friend and teammate, Karlina Zanetti, sometimes like to throw softballs at each other in the middle of practice.

“She would be like, ‘You two need to knock it off before you get hurt,’” Lyons said.

Her coach is also protective of her players, too, Lyons said, if there’s a reason they need to come off the field — physically or emotionally.

“So there’s the strict side of Bobbi, but also the protective side of Bobbi,” Lyons said.

Adds Comack: “She does the same thing my mom does. She makes sure we’re hydrated, and we have something to eat, and that we’re being healthy, and we’re making good decisions.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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Mary Comack and her mom, Becky.

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Hailey Lyons and her mom, Mary Jo.

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Maddie Fernimen and her mom, Nathalie.