167th Airlift Wing brings home more than trophy from 50th Annual Air National Guard Softball Tournament
By Staff Sgt. Sherree Grebenstein, 167AW/PA
/ Published August 28, 2015
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Airmen from the 167th Airlift Wing who competed in the 50th Annual Air National Guard Softball Tournament in St. Joseph, Mo., last month brought home more than a second place trophy that will be displayed in a case especially crafted for it.
Members of the West Virginia Air National Guard based in Martinsburg also took away from the annual ANG softball championship newfound friendships with counterparts serving at various bases around the country; a stronger comradery with fellow Airmen in their own wing as well as a wealth of memories that will last a lifetime.
The Airmen represented not only the 167th but the Mountain State as a whole as they slugged it out with players coming as far away as Hawaii to participate in the annual ANG tournament.
"We represented the state of West Virginia," said Master Sgt. Jody Miller, adding team members weren't shy about flying the state flag at each game and chanting "Let's Go Mountaineers."
Even the gold and blue jerseys worn were a nod to West Virginia University. With a continuous raucous chant of "Right now, right here, let's go Mountaineers!!!!" the Airmen
cheered teammates on as they took to the field during the four-day double elimination playoffs August 12-15 at Heritage Park in St. Joseph.
"This was one of the biggest ideas of brotherhood that you will ever have. There's no doubt in my mind," Miller said.
He and Master Sgt. Jon Lamp joined forces to coach the open team which consisted of a dozen players who ranged in age. A separate softball team for Airmen 35 years and older was also fielded.
"We had approximately eight rookies and they said it was the best trip they had ever been on," Miller said of those Airmen who represented the 167th on both softball teams.
And one rookie found himself forced to wear the dreaded "pink shirt."
Col. Rodney Neely, commander of the wing's Mission Support Group, who played on the over 35 team, donned the "pink shirt."
According to Miller, if you struck out or hit a solo homerun you had to wear the "pink shirt" until a fellow player on the team followed suit.
"Colonel Neely did not hit a home run," quipped Senior Airman Tyler Greenstreet.
Other team members required to don the pink shirt included 2nd Lt. Kevin Hurlbrink, Master Sgt. Brad Gloyd, (Ret.) Master Sgt. Robbie Sprinkle, Tech. Sgt. Tom Gyurisin, Staff Sgt. Greg Copenhaver and Staff Sgt. Matt Laign.
Along with Tech. Sgt. Shad Jenkins and Senior Airman Levi Cameron, Greenstreet coached the wing's over 35 players against 13 other teams. Fourteen Airmen comprised the 35 and over team.
In the end it came down to the old military adage of "One Team, One Fight!" No matter how much time spent on the field or their role on the team, the Airmen banded together with one mission in mind - winning.
"Whether you played or you cheered everyone knew their role," Miller said.
This was the second consecutive tournament played since 1995. Miller said teams from the 167th played in the tournament 10 years in a row until a lack of funding caused the wing to not compete in the annual ANG event for nearly 20 years. Only last year did the 167th once again take to the playing field.
Miller credits Staff Sgt. Glenn Housden with spearheading a renewed interest in fielding 167th Airmen to compete in the ANG tournament.
"He approached us and said, `How about we get this thing going again?'" Miller said.
In the end the 167th's over 35 team brought home the second place trophy for their efforts. Miller said Maryland's Air National Guard based in Baltimore walked away with the bragging rights for first place.
But Greenstreet noted it was a hard fought game.
"We were competing in essence for an Air National Guard National championship, but we came up a little short," Miller added.
And while bringing home first place honors was a goal that both teams had set their sights on, perhaps something more important was won as 167th Airmen worked toward that goal.
"There are guys that I didn't know beforehand and now I see them - I'm out in the parking lot
- and it's 'What's up brother Dave? They return, what's up brother Jon' so it's been a morale builder," Lamp said of the teams' players.
Miller said camaraderie and brotherhood are two words that best describe define how Airmen felt during the trip.
He and Lamp noted that the trip to the tournament was strongly supported by the wing's command. They said the Airmen who played in the annual ANG softball tournament were grateful for the backing of Col. Neely, Col. Shaun Perkowski, the wing's commander; Col. David V. Cochran, vice commander and Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Glazer Sr., the wing's command chief.
"Without that support we wouldn't have been able to do any of this," Miller said. "We hope it continues."
Lamp said the players paid their own way to be able to represent the wing in the tournament. He said Airmen banded together to raise money through a gun raffle as well as a bonanza on May 2 held at the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department to fund their lodging, rental vehicles and uniforms.
In addition, several businesses and organizations from the Martinsburg area sponsored the teams' trip. Even Powerball winner Randy Smith pitched in and supported the troops' endeavor.
With an eye to next year's annual ANG Softball Championship in Panama City, Fla., Miller, Lamp and Greenstreet encourage wing Airmen, their dependents as well as retirees to tryout next spring when they field new teams.
"Anyone who wants to come out and try out is more than welcome," Miller said.
Lamp and Miller agreed that the 167th made an impression on rival players from other wings with its theme song.
Not surprisingly it was John Denver's "Country Roads."
Surprisingly, it was a tune that was sung loudly by their fellow peers from air wings around the country as the 167th cemented its wins in the ANG softball tournament.
"This is just another example of Mountaineer Pride Worldwide," Miller added.