For Coach Carolyn
Pine Prairie High School interim head softball coach Woody Harvey sits in the middle of the team during a batting practice session held at his home on Monday afternoon. Harvey has been serving as the interim coach for Carolyn Deville, the longtime coach of the softball program who is currently battling breast cancer. The team has honored Deville with the pink jerseys (seen in the photo) with the initals CD printed on the back underneath a cross. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
Members of the Pine Prairie High School softball team lean on the fence to talk with coach Carolyn Deville (seen sitting in the bed of a pickup truck) following the team’s playoff victory over Northwest High on Tuesday evening. (Gazette photo by Tracey Jagneaux)
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
PINE PRAIRIE – The young women of the Pine Prairie High School softball team didn’t realize how much they missed it -- the yelling that is.
Pine Prairie was facing off against Glenmora in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The Lady Panthers would end up winning the game 9-5 but the highlight of that Wednesday evening matchup at home was when they heard a familiar voice coming from the crowd.
The voice belonged to their longtime head coach Carolyn Deville.
“She came to that game and just to hear her scream at us was really exciting,” senior center fielder Julia Chaddrick said. “She was sitting by the dugout and screaming at us. We told her, ‘coach, we never thought we would be happy to have you scream at us.’”
“It felt like home,” senior right fielder Macey Harvey said. “In the beginning of our careers we couldn’t stand it but at that game it was so exciting to hear her voice again. She even yelled at the umpire to tell him to clean his glasses and everything. It was a great day.”
Deville is a legendary softball coach.
Deville built the PPHS softball program from essentially scratch nearly three decades ago and transformed it into one of the state’s most revered programs. In 27 years at the helm, Deville guided Pine Prairie to the Fast Pitch 56 in Sulphur 18 times, finished as state runner-up three times (1994, 1997, 2001) and claimed two state championships (1998 in Class B, 2005 in Class 2A).
Deville accomplished all that with her well-known no-nonsense style of coaching. That means for the girls that play for her that they can expect plenty of tough love handed out to them, which usually comes in the form of yelling from Deville.
“We know that even when her voice raises to a point where we think it shouldn’t be that it is out of love,” Macey Harvey said. “She loves the game as much as we do and probably more than we do.
“I heard about her when I was coming in as an eighth grader that she was tough and mean. That you don’t want to play for her because she will grab your helmet mask and yell at you until you get it right. But you know what? Every word she has ever spoken to us has helped us make us into the players we are today. We are thankful to have played for her.”
“Her heart and soul is in this game,” Chaddrick added. “She knows everything about the game. Yeah she screams at us but when we strikeout or commit an error she knows exactly what to tell us to lift us back up. That is why she is such a great coach.”
That voice though would be silenced back in December.
As the team, and the rest of the student body, was preparing to go on Christmas break, Deville brought her girls into her classroom. It was there that the longtime coaching fixture informed her team of some grim news -- that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“She started talking about the break,” Chaddrick remembered. “Then all of the sudden she told us that she had cancer. The whole team just broke down. It was terrible. She had been our coach for the past three years and now during our senior year she all of the sudden has cancer. It broke us down.”
“It was the toughest conversation any of us have had,” said senior catcher Sara Tate, who even after all these months still has to compose herself when reflecting on that moment. “She just kept telling us that she wanted us to have fun and not to worry about what she was about to go through. Of course that is not easy.”
For the young girls, seeing their tough-as-nails coach begin to shed tears with them was a life-changing moment.
“We don’t see a soft side of her very often,” senior second baseman Tori Bordelon said. “When you see her breakdown you can’t help but breakdown too. You feel what she feels. It is sad but you want to fight for her. It inspired us.”
With their head coach being forced to take time off for chemotherapy treatments, someone needed to lead the team that was coming off a trip to Sulphur for the Fast Pitch 56. Deville asked volunteer coach Woody Harvey, who is also Macey’s father, to serve as interim head coach.
Even with Woody in place, the team’s four seniors though were inspired to take on the responsibilities of serving as coaches themselves, especially to the freshmen who lacked the knowledge of just how high expectations are when a young lady suits up for the Pine Prairie High School softball team.
“For us seniors, we knew what we had to do,” said Chaddrick, who has been selected to play in the Louisiana Softball Coaches Association High School All-Star Game. “We know how strong Coach Carolyn is and we knew what we needed to do for her and our team. The juniors and sophomores knew what was expected of them because they had played for her, but the freshmen didn’t. So we had to step up and be coaches to them.”
Added Macey Harvey, “She knew that we knew how she likes her team to be coached. We understand what the standards are here at Pine Prairie. She wanted us to be little mini versions of her to have what she wants done on the field.”
Having what Deville wants done on the field has taken on a new wrinkle this season. Due to the extensive treatments the coach has received, and the fact that her immune system is weakened due to those treatments, Deville has been limited with her contact with the team, with the exception of a few lunches with her four seniors.
Deville though typically watches the game on Facebook Live, or sometimes even in person watching from inside her pickup truck parked behind the center field wall, as she did during the team’s playoff victory over Northwest High on Tuesday evening.
Even in a weakened state, Deville has still found a way to coach her girls.
“There are text messages being sent to us, being sent to the coaches during the game and if she tells us to do something and it doesn’t get done then ‘oh no’,” Tate laughed.
“When we get done with our game there will be a text message on our phones or sometimes a voice mail waiting for us,” Chaddrick said. “It is pretty inspiring for us to know that even at her weakest point our coach is still wanting to deal with our problems.”
Despite having their coach sidelined with a deadly disease, Pine Prairie found a way to persevere as the Lady Panthers won 26 games in the regular season, went undefeated in District 5-3A play and earned the No. 4 seed in the Class 3A playoff bracket.
Pine Prairie will face Buckeye Friday with a berth to Sulphur on the line.
“Everybody had to understand that we had to rely on each other more this year,” Bordelon said. “We had to realize that we needed to step up as seniors and make coach decisions too. We just stepped up real big this year.”
This season has also taken on a special meaning for the team, especially the four seniors who Deville once called new berries (her term for freshmen) four years ago. The team has worn pink ribbons, batting gloves and stickers for breast cancer awareness, and the team has pink jerseys with the initials CD on the back below a small cross to honor their coach.
“I think it has meant a tremendous amount to them,” Woody Harvey said. “I think her experience has shown them just how short life is. When you think you have it bad there are people out there that have it a hell of a lot worse than you do. She has told these girls that. These girls understand now that each and every day is precious.”
For this group of Lady Panthers, though the ultimate goal is to not only return to Sulphur but to also bring home some hardware for the coach that they love and whose voice they still miss hearing on game days.
“We thought that this would be a relaxing year,” said Tate, who has signed to play softball at Baton Rouge Community College in the fall. “The four of us were going to be seniors and it was going to be a fun year and then everything happened so fast. It definitely gave us a different perspective on our senior year. Not only are we playing for ourselves and our team, we are playing for our coach who brought us to where we are today.”
Added Macey Harvey, “Everything is for her. We want to win this for her.”