TAMPA — Typically, Cindy Deters would be immersing herself in leisure during these blissful spring afternoons.
After a day of teaching physical education at Tampa Catholic, she’d head home to walk Dobie and Ollie, her miniature Schnauzer and dachshund, before perhaps swinging a few irons at Babe Zaharias Golf Course.
But normalcy vanished two weeks ago. Nine games into the season, veteran softball coach Vernon Tatum resigned. Rumblings indicated Tatum had conflicts with some parents; Tatum publicly would only cite conflicts with his day job.
Regardless, Tatum’s entire staff went with him. So, too, did every smidgen of Deters’ spare time. The future of his program in peril, TC athletic director Freddie Langiotti turned to Deters, who hadn’t coached a softball game in roughly two decades.
“You know what, believe it or not, I jumped right in,” Deters said. “I said, ‘I would love to help the program. I don’t want the program to falter.’ ”
To the contrary, it has flourished.
Collect all the preconceptions you might harbor about a program in midseason flux — disillusionment, divisiveness, even departures — and put a figurative fungo bat to them. Since Deters and her makeshift staff took over, Tampa Catholic is 3-0.
Two of those triumphs have come against Springstead and Holy Names, the only teams to defeat the Crusaders (10-2) earlier in the season.
“It’s fantastic,” senior centerfielder Tatum Nejman said. “We’re, like, a lot stronger now and it makes us look so much better.”
Deters, who coached a handful of girls prep sports in a previous life in South Florida, disperses the credit liberally. Added layers of praise are given to her kids’ collective attitude and talent.
"I don’t think they ever gave up,” said Deters, who insists this is just an interim gig for her. “Ever.”
But resilience wasn’t without skepticism, at least initially. Upon Tatum’s resignation, Deters and her staff — fellow TC teacher Fari Mendez, volunteer Jose Sepulveda and Crusaders JV baseball coach Freddy Insua — had one day of practice with their new team.
Deters’ message: We’re here to pick up where the other coaches left off, and pursue a long playoff run.
“It was really weird having a new coach, and they were doing things differently than our old coaches do,” Nejman said. “They had us do a lot more different drills than our old coaches did, and they kind of — I don’t know — they just changed the way they run practice. We did a lot more mechanical things, different things.”
Nonetheless, TC rallied for a 5-3 win against Springstead — a Class 6A program that’s 14-3 — the following afternoon. These days, the Crusaders appear to have attained a level of comfort and camaraderie that might have been unforeseen two weeks ago.
Deters is the overseer and first-base coach, delegating a bulk of the in-game coaching to Insua, a married father of 5- and 6-year-old girls who runs his own limousine company by day.
“Cindy and I came together and just bonded right off the get-go,” said Insua, who still coaches the JV baseball team. “And these girls have just supported us and the school has supported us, and it’s made it that much easier for everybody.”
On Tuesday, that bond was palpable, even as the opposition came unglued.
Holy Names (10-3), which hadn’t played in more than a week and was missing ace Kayla Maxwell, committed five errors in TC’s 5-4 win. Logic would suggest the Crusaders caught the Jaguars at the right time.
But for a program forced to improvise in midseason, maybe TC was due for some good timing.
“We all, like, stepped up (after the coaching change),” Nejman said. “We want to keep going with the season and we want to continue. We have a great group of girls that have a lot of talent, so we just want to continue our efforts.”