In any sport, coaches search for ways to motivate their players and new means of building chemistry.
A trip to the beach, a ropes course or perhaps volunteering in a soup kitchen are all fine options.
Strength coach Alicia Catlette, in search of something new and interesting for the “Softball-Strong Challenge” she puts MSU’s softball team through each fall, called a contact at MSU’s dairy farm.
A few days later, it was 5:30 in the morning and her third baseman was body-slamming cows, followed by pitchers getting as much milk as they could from the udders of Mississippi’s finest bovine.
The Bulldogs’ day at the dairy farm was a competition, with the ladies divided into three teams. They were tossing and rolling hay bales, toting stack 50-pound bags of feed, milking cows under time constraints and, of course, pinning 250-pound calves.
Senior Logan Foulks is a Georgia native and while she’s never wrestled cows before, she grew up around rodeos and has at least seen it done, in addition to having ridden a bull before (for 6.8 seconds!).
Then, Foulks’ team was up.
“It’s real easy,” she said.
“All you have to do is grab their head and the body will follow,” she explained. “But it’s OK, their neck is the strongest part of their body. They don’t get hurt.
“The cow was at the water trough, so I told everyone, ‘Y’all swing wide and herd it this way. You can’t be nice to it, just bring it to me.’ So we got it halfway to the gate, I put it in a headlock and drug it the rest of the way. I tripped, but I held on to it, got back up, then threw it back over my shoulder and threw my body back with it. So when I slammed, it slammed.”
That, I believe, would qualify as “Softball-Strong.”
Another member of the team, Kayla Winkfield, is from Texas and grew up around farms, too, but her experience was with the horse variety.
The cows weren’t necessarily her, well, cup of milk.
“The milking really wasn’t me,” she said laughing. “It wasn’t my style. While I was trying to milk the cow, it kept kicking so I was scared. Every time I touched it, it would kick me, so I just stood there the last 30 seconds.
“I got a drop or two, though,” she added with an air of pride.
As it turns out, Catlette said, two of the players had actually milked a cow before, so they had an advantage when it came time to work speedily with the udders.
The rest of the team, however, was a bit more taken back.
“We wanted to put them in a situation that’s uncomfortable,” Catlette said, knowing she had accomplished her goal. “They all call themselves country girls, so we wanted to see if they really are. You never know how it’s gonna work out, but I think it was a great experience that not many SEC softball players, or even people, are going to have.”
Beyond team-building and general learning – for instance, MSU has the 7th-best milk-yielding cow in the country. Who knew? – the experience was an extension of what Vann Stuedeman has taught the team. How to go about life and what makes them better people.
“No matter what kind of situation you’re in,” Foulks said, “Vann always teaches us that you need to be competitive in everything you do and try to win everything you do. Whether it’s in the business world or in the classroom or on the field, if you have that drive and desire, then you’re gonna be successful in life. Vann tries to get us comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The finale of the experience came the following day, after the team finished conditioning drills, when those who taught them at the dairy farm showed up and surprised them with the fruits of their dairy labor – MSU ice cream.
“I looked at that ice cream we ate very differently,” Winkfield said with a laugh.
No animals or softball players were harmed in the events of this challenge.