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Coach is batting a thousand

By TERRY JONES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 28, 2001


TAMPA -- Most of the parents of the players on Ray Seymour's softball team were older than he was when he coached Leaguerette ball in North Tampa more than 20 years ago. These days, he says, the players' parents are younger than he is.

Seymour, 57, is Tampa's Mr. Softball. He and his wife, Cathy, started with the sport to spend more time with their daughter, Sherrie.

Now, even though Sherrie is finished with college and married, Seymour still coaches.

In 1981, he left the Leaguerette program and started the Tampa Mustangs Softball Organization. The Mustangs are a travel team, which means that they play softball throughout Florida and the United States.

That first year, there were 12 players and a couple of parents who helped coach.

"We were the first travel softball team in Hillsborough County, so to find someone to play against we had to travel to Orlando and all along the East Coast of Florida to get games and tournaments," Seymour said. "Everything was slow pitch until 1994. When high schools moved to fast pitch, so did we."

Now the organization has close to 150 players and around 40 coaches running 12 teams of players ranging in age from younger than 8 to 18. Each team is responsible for its own fundraising; for all of them, this year's budget exceeded $120,000.

"It sure has grown, but our principles are the same," Seymour said. "We have a code of ethics for both players and coaches. We teach them to play well and win, but never at the expense of not being ladies and gentlemen. Playing ball keeps kids busy and out of trouble, yes, but we want them to become responsible citizens also."

Junior college and university softball coaches from around the country constantly call or e-mail Seymour asking about some of the Mustang players. Over the years, more than 150 of the players have signed college scholarships.

"We play and practice all year long, so they don't have time to hang out with troublemakers, and drugs would eliminate them from competition," Seymour said. "Nothing is more joyful to my wife or (me) than to see one of our kids out of school or college and married who come up and say some of the greatest moments of their life (were) playing travel ball."

Seymour worked for Texaco for 18 years before taking early retirement, going back to school and getting a degree in special education.

Now he runs the Tampa Mustang organization, coaches the Hillsborough Community College softball team and teaches special ed at Chamberlain High School full time.

Each fall, he starts new classes at Chamberlain, softball at HCC and works with the Mustangs in the fall travel ball season. He directs the Mustang organization and coaches the 16-and-under team.

In the spring he is busier, with college schedules, younger kids playing travel ball and high school-age kids in the prep schedule. He has players on teams throughout Hillsborough County and supports their games when he can.

"When I think about it, I must be busier than I thought," he said. "It's worth it, though. If we help a few girls turn out good, they will turn around and help some and them a few more, and the world is a little better because a few folks are nicer.

"This is just a way Cathy and I enjoy life a little more and help others do the same."

- Know of interesting people to profile? Write to Terry Jones, c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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