By Sergio Santistevan
In 2000, the Arctic Heat fastpitch organization was founded out of Eagle River, Alaska – but the passion for softball started long before.
The Arctic Heat can be considered a family affair, with husband and wife Carl and Michele Waters at the head of the program. The Waters are the founders of the program and the current Board of Directors. Their daughters, Courtney Waters and Andrea Canfield, are former players and current coaches of the Heat.
The strong softball blood can be tied to Michele’s mother, Lauretta Williams. In the first case of the softball family being doubted, Williams lived in Japan at a time when baseball wasn’t popular for women, so she went against the status quo and played with the men.
As a high school student, Michele started to become consumed and fall in love with the game herself while watching her mother.
“I played in high school and actually started coaching my senior year in high school. I coached a team with my mom,” Michele said. “My mother taught me when I was younger (that) because I’m not a very big woman, if you learn to play everywhere and learn to hit everywhere, you become more valuable than the girl that can hit to the fence.”
Williams’ advice to her daughter has translated to the Arctic Heat’s coaching philosophy. In practice, Heat players don’t have positions, because you never know when a player is going to be needed elsewhere. For example, if a college coach wants to see the shortstop play some first base, now she needs to be ready for that position and someone else needs to be ready to take her spot.
“All of our girls move around. All our infielders move around the infield. All our outfield moves around the outfield, and they switch back and forth. Our catcher can play third, second or center. Our pitchers all play third, first or second. Our second basemen can play outfield and catches,” Michele said. “We make sure that when a coach comes up and says we want to see a girl in a position, our team transitions and moves around seamlessly.”
Michele still plays softball today and follows the same advice from her mother. She is a utility player for her Huntsman World Senior Games team, where they have won a gold medal three out of the past four seasons.
When she isn’t playing softball, Michele and Carl stay busy with Arctic Heat, where their roles have slightly changed since 2000. Currently, Michele is the team manager for the 18u team, while Carl is president and recruiting liaison. His game-day role consists of never entering the dugout and solely interacting with college coaches. Courtney is currently the head coach of the 18u team, and Andrea helps with the teams as well.
Along with assistance from five other coaches, the Arctic Heat program is all in on the mission of getting girls scholarships, a mission that formed during a small youth fastpitch tournament over two decades ago. Before the Arctic Heat became established and were under a different name, a fellow opponent in an Oregon tournament poked fun at the team from Alaska.
“They kind of laughed at us and said, ‘You guys from Alaska can’t play softball, you guys can’t get scholarships,’” Michele said. “It kind of ticked us off. We were like ‘wait a minute, we got talent in Alaska’ and we beat that team.”
After somebody asked Carl and Michele to start the Arctic Heat, they finally did when Courtney was in eighth grade. However, Carl and Michele didn’t fully dive into the Heat just yet because they were still coaching another team at the time, Northern Impact. Once all the girls graduated from the Northern Impact, the team slowly fell apart and all the girls turned to Arctic Heat.
The Heat has evolved into a top-notch, non-profit organization whose sole focus is to promote softball with the highlight of getting girls scholarships. Since their creation, over 100 Arctic Heat players, including Courtney and Andrea, have earned college scholarships.
With the Arctic Heat focused with such determination about putting athletes into college, they don’t boast about their on-field accomplishments. On their website, it’s difficult to find any championship accolades, but it’s easy to find players who have earned scholarships and educational resources. Each coach plays an integral role in making those scholarship dreams come true, on the diamond or in the classroom. As an example, one of the coaches on staff does tutoring for the kids in her spare time, while another handles ACT prep.
Before heading to tournaments, Heat coaches will check grades from players to make sure that hurdle isn’t between them and college coaches.
“On our team, it’s mandatory that you carry at least a 3.0 GPA. It’s required to try and maintain a 3.2,” Michele said. “We’ve had girls maintained 4.0’s throughout school … we really want these girls to go to college. We really want them to succeed. We prepare them athletically, but we also let them know you’re a student first.”
On top of education and softball, all Arctic Heat players are required to do some form of charity work. For Mother’s Day this year, all Heat players will serve breakfast for local mothers at one of the supporters’ businesses.
Despite scholarships and success on the diamond, today’s Arctic Heat still experience many of the same struggles that early Alaska fastpitch teams faced.
“We come to these tournaments and we’ll play and there are times when teams beat us one to two, one to zero, three to zero, and they’re California, Texas, Arizona and Oregon teams,” Michele said. “One of the things I would really like these teams to know is our high school season is 26 games and that includes state, so if you don’t make it to state you only have 23 games. By the time we get to the first tournament, we have only played five games together.
“The teams that we play that only beat us by one or two typically have played 50 to 90 games by the time they see us … some of them are gracious about it, while some are a little arrogant.”
Through the years, numerous college programs have noticed the talent but lack of exposure in Alaska, so Carl flirted with the idea of highlighting Alaskan players to colleges in an event. As a result, Triple Crown Sports created The Great Alaska Showcase in 2019 (set for Aug. 4-6 this year in Anchorage). This event is one of the most successful recruiting camps for all fastpitch players in Alaska, as it brings together college coaches and players throughout the weekend.
“It’s easier for us to sponsor eight, nine or 10 coaches and Triple Crown to come up here than it is to send these girls to tournaments,” Michele said. “It also gives those girls that aren’t on a competitive team or don’t have the funds to travel to be seen.”
If things don’t go great on the field, the Heat coaches don’t let their players hang their heads, because they take pride in the group. They know other teams have more resources and get to play in more tournaments together.
As a unit, the Arctic Heat operate seamlessly despite the lack of playing time together because the coaches stress the basics. In October, the coaches make all players start back at the square one, from how to field and hit. The Arctic Heat makes up for the lost time by making sure every player is individually prepared.
“The girls need to work hard, play fair and everything else will come together,” Michele said. “You can’t be successful unless you work.”
During your trip in the greater Phoenix area, there will be opportunities to slip away from the tournament to enjoy the region’s unique flair and fun. Here are five activities to consider:
DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN – Thousands of plant species and a riotous variety of color and texture make the Garden a rewarding destination; it’s always amazing to consider the mix of plants, flowers, trees and cacti that are natural, native inhabitants of Arizona.
SCOTTSDALE – If the mood strikes for a little culture, head to this northern suburb. The restaurants, shopping and art galleries are defined by the finer touches in appearance and style, offering a full-on break from the ballpark experience.
GOLF – If you love to play, your time in and around Phoenix puts you on the doorstep of hundreds of courses, suitable for beginners through experts. Should you get enough time away from the ballpark, tee it up, especially because the weather is ideal – this diversion is a lot more of a challenge in summertime.
SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS – On the east side of the metro area sits the jagged, jaw-dropping beauty of the Superstition Mountains, home of numerous hiking trails that can be as challenging as you desire. During the Arizona Fall Showcase, you can tackle these powerfully gorgeous vistas at a great time of the year, when conditions make it a pleasurable journey.
BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL – FREE to the public, and one of the best bluegrass festivals in Arizona, the Porter Barn Wood 4th Annual Bluegrass Festival and Open House is a great time to enjoy quality music, great food, and meet the people that build at Porter Barn Wood. Nov. 2, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
For more than 30 years, Rick Waye has been a fixture of softball excellence on the club scene, regularly training up the best players along the East Coast and directing them to bright careers in the college game.
Backed by his vision and connections, the Xtreme Fall Showcase and Camp (slated for Oct. 18-20, 2019 in Ewing NJ and Southampton, PA) has been a trusted highlight on the recruiting calendar and the preferred destination for many club programs:
-- Jeff Fischl (PA Outlaws, Lehigh Valley, PA)
No. 1, it’s got good quality teams. With the scheduling in the fall, they really work with me, if I need early games or late games, as I send about four or five teams (each time). They are very willing to work with you.
Rick, I talk to him often. He’s very personable. He’s an old-school guy, which I like. He doesn’t have any of his own kids on teams, just like my organization, and he’ll do anything for you. He’ll help you get a player recruited. If I’ve got a good ballplayer on my team, he’ll help me as well – he’s that kind of guy.
Triple Crown is excellent – this is one of the best showcases that my team participates in. Colleges are there, and they’re not just walking around, they are right there during the games, which goes back to the primary point of having good teams there. Any showcase tournament can have 200 teams, but if you have 175 crap teams, no one will come see it. Rick always brings the good teams, which brings the colleges, and that’s why we go there.
-- Kevin Matter (Lancaster 18u Independent)
Starting with the camp, I tell everyone it’s the best camp we ever did. We actually put our entire team into it because of that – the camp layout is great, because you’re on the field being coached by the college coaches. There’s no better way to expose the players. You’re out of your comfort zone (which is good); the goal of every club team is to be in front of college coaches, and Rick puts you there.
Rick always gets back to you; he’s quick, and we’ve never had any problems. They’ve always worked with us if we had scheduling conflicts and always made it work.
--Joe Salvatore (New Jersey Breakers, Freehold, NJ)
We are always in the “power” side of the bracket, so the competition is great. The field locations and the fields themselves are very good to play on. They’re in close proximity to each other, which is really fun because the college coaches don’t have to jump from one complex to another or speed off in a golf cart to watch another game. It’s well attended by college coaches.
Any tournament I’ve ever worked in, and I’ve been around a long time, I’ve never seen a tournament better-run than how Rick Waye runs them. He takes care of the coaches, the college coaches, he works with you on scheduling, and he’s so easy to deal with. On top of that, he’s always there. If you do have any trouble, you go find Rick, and the problem goes away. There are very few problems, but if there is, it’s handled.
Typically, we put a minimum of three teams in this at 18’s; we get eight or nine players signed in that tournament every year between the three teams.
For more information, contact Carrie Rivera at email@example.com or (970) 672-0508.
Click here -- Xtreme Showcase, Oct. 18-20
In the big spaces and under the big sky of Anchorage, Alaska, Triple Crown Sports is ready to deliver a ground-breaking fastpitch event.
Slated for August 2-4, 2019, the Great Alaska Showcase will be a college-coach fueled camp/clinic featuring three days of instruction in the morning and controlled scrimmages in the afternoon. For players of recruitable age, it’s a chance to sharpen skills with college coaches on site, and thus not requiring a long trip to the Lower 48 to be recruited.
For younger players, it’s a learning opportunity done at the tempo and with the tenacity expected of players as they grow in the sport. Triple Crown pioneered the coach-driven clinic back in the late 1990s and has a vast list of contacts throughout the college softball world.
The Great Alaska Showcase is done in partnership with Mike Jolin of the AK Krush fastpitch club, which has teams at 10u, 12u, 14u and 16u. The camp is essentially the next evolution for area fastpitch, a sport that has enjoyed remarkable growth – Krush teams at the older ages make multiple trips southward for recruiting purposes.
“This event will allow them and all other Alaska fastpitch players an opportunity to be seen in our hometown without spending thousands of dollars to travel,” Jolin said. “I'm hopeful we can make this a huge success and do it annually. I'm also hopeful families on the West Coast that always wanted to travel to Alaska will come up for the camp and then vacation.”
Triple Crown’s other dedicated Showcase events are held in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Virginia. For more information on these sessions and the Great Alaska Showcase, click here: TCS Fastpitch Showcase