Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School softball coach Tiffany McCarty was furious when her mother signed her up for softball at age nine. She didn’t know it then, as a young girl growing up in Manchester, N.H., that the sport would provide direction and inspiration for the rest of her life.

Her high school career eventually took her all over the country, playing a sport she grew to love with teammates she adored.

“I played in the national tournament in Alabama,” Ms. McCarty said. “That was a big turning point. I got selected to play on the junior Olympic team and I loved the camaraderie with the girls. A lot of us continued on to coach a long time afterwards. [Softball] was something that I fell in love with and that my children fell in love with.”

Team captain Kelly Pacheco. — Ray Ewing

Ms. McCarty is now passing that knowledge on to Vineyard girls, both as coach of the regional high school team and as a lead organizer in the new softball Little League division.

Ms. McCarty moved the Vineyard in 2022 to be the director of nursing at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Right away she began looking into ways to revitalize the softball program on the Island.

“I reached out to the athletic director at the high school to see if he needed help with softball and he said a spot had just vacated,” Tiffany recalled. “I thought, okay, what do we got? And the first thing I was told was that we only have seven girls signed up. Seven girls? How are we going to do this?”

Ms. McCarty recruited her wife Lori to help coach, and the two began hosting clinics and workshops throughout the year to help girls of all skill levels and ages develop fundamental skills. This year they reintroduced softball at the Little League level to develop a feeder program for the high school team. Traditionally, Vineyard girls only had the option of playing baseball during their younger years and had to transition to a completely different game in high school, whereas girls from competing schools had been playing softball for years.

Madis Pittman practices pitching. — Ray Ewing

Every practice starts with chanting the motto: “How you practice is how you play.”

“There’s all sorts of challenges [coaching teenagers],” Lori McCarty said. “They had a bad day at school or they don’t feel like practicing. We just remind them that was your school day. We’re in practice now. This is what we need to concentrate on.”

And while teaching skills is paramount for the coaches, so is creating a passion for the game. Mental health is also at the forefront of their philosophy.

“You tell me, ‘coach, I need a mental health day today,’ no questions asked, you get the day,” Tiffany said. “Because if we don’t focus on that, they’re going to hate the sport. They’re not going to give 100 per cent. If there’s a kiddo that’s striking out consistently who normally hits the ball, I will always pull them aside and say let’s work on your mental first and everything else will come along.”

Coach Lori McCarty and Brooke Rosen. — Ray Ewing

Tiffany feels that breaking the stigma of women in sports having to be tough is also key.

“We’re taught to suck it up,” Tiffany said. “When I hear ‘you got this’ or ‘you’re fine’ in the stands, I will always go and speak to the player and say, ‘do you got this?’ and they will be brutally honest. I don’t think we do a very good job with mental health in women’s sports.”

Building a competitive program from the ground up has its challenges, from lack of space on the Island for indoor softball during the off-season to generating interest throughout the community. But when it comes to the team itself, Tiffany said she is focused on building up each individual player.

“We don’t look at wins and losses all the time,” Tiffany said. “Yes, of course we want wins. But when I go back and I look at errors, I say, okay, this person’s had six errors here doing the same thing. Today, we’re gonna work on that. We always make sure that someone ends practice with a big hit or a big catch. And the whole team stops and cheers because they need that.”

Stella Debettencourt takes batting practice. — Ray Ewing

Kelly Pacheco, the captain of the team, has seen Tiffany and Lori’s impact from the start.

“They immediately changed the team for the better,” Ms. Pacheco said. “It’s really hard to find a great coach that student athletes can connect with and Lori and Tiffany filled that void. They’re really easy to connect with and they are always open to hear what the players want.”

The importance of giving back isn’t lost on Tiffany, who relishes passing down her love for the game and the lessons she learned along the way.

“When I get ‘I’m so glad that I stuck around for this softball program because I’d be lost without it’ or ‘I’m going through such a rough time at home right now and this is the one place that they feel valued,’ that’s it for me,” Tiffany said.