BOONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Sean Thomasson has always been a proud girl dad.
A decade ago, when his daughters Halee and Ariel were starting sports, he had difficulties finding a place for them to practice softball, particularly in the winter and rainier months. The girls wanted to learn the game, however, and it was an activity for them to bond with their dad.
Thomasson took matters into his own hands as someone with land in rural Southern Indiana who wanted to see his daughters chase their dreams. He constructed a 25-by-50-foot pole barn with 12-foot ceilings. Its floor has the same dirt you’ll find on any outdoor diamond.
Voilà, an indoor softball facility to be used year-round. A place where the girls could better themselves.
You could fit 10 of them inside for run drills back then. That’s out of the question now that they’re women, but the pitching machines and nets are still in place. It’s still being put to good use.
The family has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours practicing softball at their facility. And Thomasson coached younger daughter Ariel up until two years ago.
The weekend before Father’s Day in June was the culmination of all that hard work.
“It’s kind of like a cloud nine and gets you floating a little bit,” Thomasson said.
Ariel, a senior pitcher, led Boonville High School to the IHSAA Class 3A state softball championship with a 1-0 victory over Guerin Catholic. It was Boonville’s first title since 2006 – and it happened on a walk-off squeeze bunt in the bottom of the seventh.
She had nine strikeouts in her gutsiest performance of the season as the Pioneers’ “workhorse,” her head coach said. Ariel had 188 strikeouts this season. Her ERA was roughly 1.50. She fueled them throughout their postseason run from inside the circle.
Winning state is her proudest moment. It’s one of Thomasson’s proudest as a father, too.
“He’s always had confidence in me and my sister throughout all of our sports,” Ariel said. “No matter what we did, he was always there and always supporting.”’
Thomasson added: “That’s the most emotion and joy I’ve ever seen her show in softball, and she’s had a pretty good career. It makes me very proud to see what she’s accomplished.”
They’ve spent so much time with softball over the past 10 years. Thomasson got them started, and then Ariel began pitching because that’s what her older sister did. Eventually, she became more passionate about the game than Halee, and she’s going to continue playing collegiately at Rose-Hulman.
Thomasson coached them both while their mother, Sherri, said she took on the “softball mom” role of carrying the bags and bringing snacks.
“He was a good coach, but as you might know, sometimes fathers and daughters don’t get along as well when you’re coaching,” Sherri Thomasson joked. “He’s coached her since she was a little girl along, with my brother-in-law, from T-ball all the way through 16U. The two of them working together worked very well.”
Sean Thomasson and Ariel each admitted to butting heads sometimes. It’s natural.
“I always know what he’s trying to tell me is very important. Whether he thinks it or not, I do take it to heart,” Ariel said.
Her father added: “Ariel is a very determined young lady, and once she sets her mind on doing something, she wants to accomplish it.”
Well, it led to a state championship, right?
Thomasson did his best to fight tears as they hugged postgame. Ariel was already crying. They’d shared a travel softball world series title in Tampa a handful of years ago, but this was special. The Pioneers brought their community together.
He kept repeating, “I’m so proud of you.”
It was her who instilled the work ethic Ariel shows every time she enters the circle. She doesn’t get rattled or frustrated. He taught her to simply pitch up the pieces and go to the next pitch whenever she allows a hit.
The morning after Boonville won – technically the same morning – the Thomassons woke up and headed to Newburgh to watch the Boonville feeder softball team play in a tournament.
Ariel was still wearing her championship shirt and medal. And as she approached the dugout to huddle with the girls, she could see the gleam in each of their eyes. They look up to Ariel and her teammates.
Eventually, all of their careers are going to end – some sooner than others – but they’re all role models for the next generation.
“If you don’t have people to look up to, you’re not going to be interested,” Ariel said. “It really means a lot to me that these girls look up to me.”
And it’s all because she looks up to her dad. And because he taught her a game 10 years ago that’s had a profound impact on her.