City of Rifle dedicates field to coach Cindy Skinner on opening day
Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.
They regarded the fondest days he had coaching alongside Cindy Skinner, a local pioneer of softball.
“It’s a really special time to be able to name this field for coach Skinner, because of all that she has done over multiple decades now,” he said. “I’m really honored just to be able to share these few thoughts.”
Saturday was opening day for Colorado River Valley Little League. But before the more than 200 kids in the league could take the field, the community would help usher in the 2021 season by officially dedicating a field to coach Skinner.
Not only did she help start Rifle High School’s softball program, she led the Bears to one of the most dominant stretches in Colorado state softball throughout the 2000s.
After becoming Bears softball skipper in 1995, Skinner would go on to achieve one 4A district title, two Class 4A Western Slope League Championships, as well as multiple trips to the 4A state championships. To boot, Skinner’s victorious exploits encompass nearly 150 wins throughout a 20-year high school coaching career that lasted until 2015.
When the city of Rifle initially decided they’d dedicate the field in her honor in 2019, former Bears coach and athletic director Damon Wells would refer to her as “The mother of Softball” in Rifle.
“But I think she doesn’t really care about that stuff as much as what she’s done for the lives of the girls that she’s worked with,” Phillips said. “There’s been hundreds of girls who’ve been affected by her. She puts in a tremendous amount of time and energy.”
It all started in 1995. Phillips was umpiring during the inaugural year of Rifle High School softball.
“When you’re starting a program, a lot of things are new and you probably don’t have a lot of funds to work with, and the girls had these really hot cotton shirts,” Phillips said. “When we start in August — in 96 degrees, 100 degrees —and they’re just sweating like crazy. And just to see where we’ve come from — that beginning — has been awesome.”
Phillips also spoke of making the switch from umpire to coaching with Skinner.
“When we first started, we’d always make a trip over to Elizabeth, over on the Eastern Slope, and I remember the first time we were there, we didn’t have a lot of fun — we couldn’t even stay in a hotel,” Phillips, speaking before a crowd at Deerfield Park, reminisced. “So Elizabeth put us up in a high school and we slept on wrestling mats. That was quite a thing trying to corral a bunch of girls on wrestling mats during a tournament.”
Former player Emily Hisel, just 14 when the Bears started their softball program, said it’s because of Skinner that so many more girls were given the opportunity to play. This included girls from Rifle, Coal Ridge and Grand Valley high schools as well as even Meeker.
Colorado River Little League, a circuit currently furnished with 15 baseball and 5 softball squads, initially began in 2007. Back then only a handful of teams were created.
Hisel, at one point president of CRV, was tasked with bolstering softball participation. First order of business: recruit Skinner.
“Luckily for me — and luckily for this league — she agreed,” Hisel said. “She has volunteered to coach each year since. Leading both minors and majors, Cindy has given these young girls a solid foundation of skills as well as a healthy love of the game. As a result, Colorado River Valley’s softball program has grown and become a solid contender in our area at all levels.”
But it’s not the wins or losses that have meant the most to Hisel, who was later encouraged by Skinner to coach her own team.
“It’s the chance to get to know the girls in the dugout and be part of their softball journey,” she said. “I now understand why Mrs. Skinner loves coaching so much.”
After her ceremony, Skinner said she was humbled to receive the recognition and honor.
“Hopefully it’s something girls can strive to have an appreciation for,” she said. “They can do whatever they want. For me, there’s so much in the game that people can take and use in life. The lessons that we’ve learned and the things that we experienced. That’s what it’s really all about — the inspiration. Hopefully, I’ve modeled well for them.”
The Michigan native, with her team awaiting close by to take the field for the first game of the year, was later asked to throw the first pitch.
“There’s no better place than on the softball field,” she said. “And the weather? I couldn’t ask for more.”
After the festivities, 13-year-old New Castle resident Logen Price walked toward one of the fields with an anxious stride.
He was once again afforded the opportunity to sport his little league uniform.
“It’s great,” he said. “After having all this pandemic, to finally have a break and do something active, it’s amazing. I’ve never seen a sky so clear, honestly, especially on a day for baseball.”
When asked what he looks forward to most, Price highlighted the social benefits.
“Probably being able to have fun with my friends, be out of the house and enjoy life again,” he said.
Standing beside her son near a banner that bore the words “Skinner Field, little league mother Bianca Silva also displayed a distinct enthusiasm for the day. It’d be the first time her son, Cris Vargas, would be playing catcher.
“I feel so proud. I’m so happy, so excited for him,” she said. “Just a lot of emotions going on right now… I feel really happy for him.”
Dust would kick up. Metal bats would clank. The diamonds are once again busy.
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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