WORCESTER – On the surface, Worcester Union Softball is an organization that is providing female athletes from the city and surrounding towns the opportunity to participate in travel softball programs – even if they don’t have the financial ability to do so.
But the true purpose of Worcester Union Softball goes far beyond that.
Meg Mulhern, who serves Worcester Union Softball’s director of operations, college recruitment coordinator and as a coach, explains it best.
“The whole mission of Worcester Union Softball is for women to empower young women. We have many, many female coaches on our staff,” Mulhern said. “That’s by design, because we feel that women should be empowering other women, especially in athletics.”
Sean Rose, a City Councilor in Worcester’s District 1, began Worcester Union Basketball two years ago as a way for girls in grades 5-12 to have the opportunity to play travel basketball even though they, or their families, might not have the financial means to do so.
Rose currently uses donations for the tuition costs of belonging to a travel basketball team for girls who have the desire to play, but not the funds to do so. Girls who are unable to meet the financial needs of belonging to a travel team are considered to be on scholarship.
Worcester Union Basketball consists of three teams: a fifth- and sixth-grade team; a seventh-grade team; and a high school team.
In June, Mulhern, a fixture on the local softball scene for more than 20 years – and Rose’s campaign manager – approached Rose about expanding the Worcester Union program to include travel softball.
“Sean and I are both very active in the softball community and we were seeing girls that played youth softball that weren’t going to have the means to play travel softball, despite their skill level, which was above par,” Mulhern said. “We felt like it would be nice to give them an opportunity to be a member of a travel team.”
So, earlier this summer, Worcester Union Softball was created and Rose and Mulhern combined the basketball and softball programs under the umbrella of Worcester Union Athletics.
“We’re in the process of creating four travel softball teams: a 10U team (for kids ages 10 and under); a 12U team; a 14U team; and a 16U team,” Mulhern said. “Our teams are going to be extremely competitive, but at the same time we’re going to be able to find a player or two within each age group that might need a little help financially.”
Mulhern said the cost of being a member of the team, which ranges from $850 per player for the 10U team to $975 per player for the 16U team, includes:
- Outdoor practice sessions beginning in September;
- Indoor practice sessions during the fall and then resuming in January;
- Outdoor practice sessions beginning in April;
- Registration and participation in four to six tournaments, depending on age group;
- Uniforms (two game jerseys, two pair of game pants, two pair of game socks; two game belts);
- Batting helmet with cage;
- Practice shirt;
- Insurance coverage.
Worcester Union Softball, Mulhern stressed, is not going to be all softball, all the time however.
“The best part of the mission of Worcester Union Softball is that there is a community service aspect as well,” Mulhern said. “Each of our teams will be facilitated by a community service coordinator.”
Elizabeth Ward is listed on the Worcester Union Athletics website (www.worcesterunion.com) as the softball program’s community service coordinator.
“The girls and their coaches will go out into the communities – and not just Worcester, because we will have girls on the teams from all the surrounding towns as well – and find community service opportunities that the teams can be involved in,” Mulhern said.
Mulhern said she expects the Worcester Union Softball team rosters to include players from Auburn, Charlton, Leicester, Oxford and Shrewsbury, and possibly other towns as well.
“We really want to teach the girls on and off the field,” Mulhern said. “We want them to know how it is to be a good community member. We also want excellence in academics rolled into the overall Worcester Union Softball component as well.”
Mulhern has also gone to great lengths to put together a coaching staff that features a number of former high school and college softball players from Central Massachusetts.
“We’ve been very careful and choosy with our coaching staff,” Mulhern said. “Anyone interested in being part of our program should go on our website (www.worcesterunion.com). They will see that our coaching staff is filled with young, intelligent, athletic women who are donating their time to give back to these girls that are going to play for us.”
In addition to Mulhern, members of the Worcester Union Softball coaching staff includes: Rose; Melanee Melkonian; Steve Brunelle; Maureen (Coakley) Tivnan; Jackie Lapierre; Samantha Mulhern; and Tina (Oliveri) Seabury.
Rose will coach the 10U team, Melkonian the 12U team, Brunelle the 14U team and Meg Mulhern the 16U team. Tivnan will serve as the 12U assistant, Lapierre the 14U assistant. Samantha Mulhern (Meg’s daughter) and Seabury will be special instructors who will oversee hitting and on-field development.
Melkonian played her softball at St. Peter-Marian and Clark University, Meg Mulhern played at Tahanto Regional and Plymouth (N.H.) State University. Tivnan played at Holy Name and Clark, while Lapierre played at South High and Anna Maria College. Samantha Mulhern played at St. Peter-Marian and Western New England University; Seabury played at Burncoat High and Anna Maria.
Brunelle, obviously, didn’t play softball in high school or college, but he was an outstanding athlete, having played football and basketball at both Doherty High and American International College.
Mulhern said the money that would have been used to pay the coaches will go toward scholarships for needy players as well as some of the community service project the teams will be involved in.
Worcester Union Softball is already a hit; more than 175 girls have tried out this summer for the 48 available spots. Meg Mulhern said the teams will be announced in early September.
“Each team is going to have a very stable core,” Meg Mulhern said. “We’re obviously looking for athletic skill and we want to be able to be extremely competitive, but at the same time we’re looking for kids that want to be involved in all aspects of what we’re doing, not just the softball component.”
Meg Mulhern said she will split her time between coaching, directing and recruitment equally.
“I’ve been involved in travel softball for a very long time but I see my responsibilities as college recruitment coordinator as maybe the most important part of my role with Worcester Union Softball,” she said. “We’re going to do a couple of college showcase tournaments with the 16U team just to get them used to it. The first time you ever participate in a workout or tournament where college coaches are present it’s very scary. We want the girls to be able to relax when it really means something so participating in a couple of college showcases will help with that.”
Practice starts in September and all of the Worcester Union Softball teams will compete in their first tournament in October.
“The fall season is more for getting the team together and doing some team-building activities. We want them to get to know one another; most of these girls haven’t played together before,” Meg Mulhern said. “The tournament in October we’re going to is called Halloween Havoc. The kids get to dress up for Halloween and play in a tournament against 15 other teams and have some fun in the process. It’s a team-building tournament and a way to see where the girls are fundamentally, how they’re playing, what they have to work on, what they’re doing exceptionally well.”
Shortly after the Halloween Havoc the teams will head inside and will work out of Energy Athletics on Stafford Street, a facility run by Ryan Petrone.
“It’s been a great marriage between the two of us,” Meg Mulhern said. “Ryan is extremely knowledgeable. He’s been open to our ideas regarding community service and he actually plan to incorporate the community service aspect into his baseball program, Energy Baseball.”
Meg Mulhern said Worcester Union Softball will be the exclusive program working out of Energy Athletics.
“We will be using Ryan’s facility all winter, using the turf and getting the kids ready for their spring season,” Meg Mulhern said. “We will be taking advantage of the strength and conditioning components of his facility. In addition, every Saturday we will have a sports medicine physical therapist of our own, Dr. Victoria Quattrucci, that will come in and work with the girls on dynamic warm-up so they get used to doing a dynamic warm-up before each practice and each game.”
Meg Mulhern said despite the fact that Worcester Union Softball is just in the beginning stages of existence; the feedback from the community has been great.
“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback, whether it is from parents that come to tryouts to members of the community,” Meg Mulhern said. “We’ve already had community outreach from different groups looking for us to assist them. It’s been a really great startup and it has had a really great feel right off the bat. We’re very happy with the way things are going.”
Meg Mulhern has stressed to the parents that she has interacted with that they should log onto the website (www.worcesterunion.com) and read up on just what the mission of Worcester Union Softball is.
“We want parents to see that Worcester Union softball is not just about the sport itself,” Meg Mulhern said. “The program is wrapped around the sport but the sport is not the be-all or the end-all. These girls aren’t going to be professional softball players for the rest of their lives so we need to be able to coach the whole athlete, especially on the community-service side, and we need to make sure they are doing well in school.
“I’ve been a coach for 20 years and I really believe female coaches are important to female athletes,” Meg Mulhern continued. “On the website the athletes can see where the coaches have come from, what they’ve done, how they’ve lived their life. We have three coaches under the age of 30 and all of them have done well academically and athletically and have a lot of community service experience as well. We want the girls to see how it all fits together; how wonderful it can be to be in a group like this. We call it the sisterhood.”
Meg Mulhern said Worcester Union Athletics recently received its federal tax ID number and had filed the paperwork necessary to be recognized as a 501c3 non-profit organization. She said once the 501c3 status is achieved, Worcester Union Athletics will start applying for grants to help with the costs of scholarships for athletes in need.
“We’re already in the process of writing grants, we just can’t send them out until we have all the 501c3 paperwork in place, which we hope will be sometime in September.”
Lead Photo: Worcester Union Basketball players participating in a Community Service Project — the clean up of Indian Lake in the spring.