Monk hitting the right pitch

By James Perry

A Maniapoto softball player is on a mission to develop the next generation of world-class pitchers in New Zealand.

Pania Monk is a White Sox pitcher who plays college softball in America and she's back on home soil working with rangatahi in Auckland. 

Monk has been running a six week long pitching and catching clinic with 11 24-year-olds at Papakura's Prince Edward Park. 

Participants such as Jordan Te Puni says he has been "learning new pitches and new techniques," while Leilah-Jade Manga says she has enjoyed learning "to have fun but be serious at the same time."

Monk first made the White Sox as a pitcher 2 years ago. She's just returned from Eastern Arizona University in America, where she's been playing softball and says she never had these opportunities when she was growing up. She said she only became a pitcher because she was the one who could pitch the straightest in her team, "it wasn't like I was trained, or I had somebody helping me pitch, it was just 'oh you can pitch the straightest and you kind of pitch the fastest, so you can be our pitcher'," she said.

It has been three weeks since these clinics began, and Monk has seen an improvement already, "when I first got them, they were all lazy and just here because 'my parents told me to come'. But now like they've improved everything." She adds, "And they're coachable which is good. A lot of kids these days aren't coachable, but these kids, they're good."

While it may surprise some to see youth up and about at 9am on a Sunday morning in the middle of winter, the youth themselves aren't. This morning there were more than 20 in attendance. Taine Heke says about getting up early, "it's not really that hard to be honest, it's just like another school day," and jade Calverly says because she gets excited about the clinics, "it's kind of easy."

Pānia Monk says it is pleasing to see so many youth participating in her clinics, particularly during the softball off season. "Half these kids, they probably got rep tournaments or something. There's netball today, there's probably league today."

Some of the participants have been selected in national and International Softball Academy sides that will be traveling overseas in coming months, where they can display the skills they have learned at these clinics.