Las Vegas middle school’s softball team started with student’s idea

Take a seventh-grade girl with a deep passion for softball, a straight-As average in her classes and lots of determination. Sprinkle in Carmella Korte’s ability to present a convincing argument to her school principal last October, and bingo! Those became the ingredients for a girls softball team for Leavitt Middle School in northwest Las Vegas.

But that was only the beginning. It took some doing before seven other middle schools in and around Summerlin joined in, and now the girls had “A League of Their Own.”

Then came the crème de la crème for the girls of Leavitt Middle. In May, after two months of each team playing two games a week in the middle school league, the 13-member Leavitt team won the softball league championship game.

“I’m so proud of my daughter,” said Maria Korte, who played a significant role in helping her then-12-year-old daughter Carmella bring about an organized girls softball program for eight middle schools in and around Summerlin.

“Carmella had the courage to sit down with Keith Wipperman, her principal at Leavitt Middle School, and talk about the need for a girls softball program,” said Maria Korte, who also happens to be a middle school teacher. “He told her to ‘find a coach.’”

Carmella Korte helped find two coaches: Ericka Spiezio, who teaches seventh-grade English, and Melissa Sores, a special education teacher.

“When Keith Wipperman announced there would be a girls softball team if a coach could be found, then Carmella spoke to me about it; I volunteered to coach the team, as did Melissa Sores,” said Spiezio. “I played softball in college, and I always had a passion for it.”

Finding volunteer coaches was no easy task, because the job is voluntary. There are no middle school funds to pay coaches for girls softball. In fact, the Clark County School District doesn’t budget funds for most middle school team sports. Girls basketball is the only exception, according to Wipperman, who has been the principal at Leavitt for 10 years.

“In the 22 years that I have been involved in education here, we have never had funds for girls softball, or for other team sports,” said Wipperman. He said he plans to meet with school district officials to find funding next year for softball, as well as soccer and volleyball programs for boys and girls.

“We’re looking for any help we can get from corporations and private donors as well. I have always felt strongly about sports programs in our schools,” Wipperman added.

As for his meeting with Carmella last fall, Wipperman confirmed that he told her to find a coach.

“That’s absolutely true, and she did find a coach. She found two of them. I met with Carmella and her mother, Maria, and after Carmella explained to me the level of interest in softball among girls at our school, I helped her get the ball rolling.”

That meant getting on his phone and computer to corral seven other middle schools into doing the same thing. It also meant helping with the expenses for uniforms, equipment, travel and incidentals. Some of the funding came from a tight school budget. Some came from parents.

“We couldn’t have done it without Maria and Amanda Billot, another of the parents,” Wipperman said, adding that both helped beat the drums for parental support.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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