Guardians of the First Coast Make History

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Hulme

Fifteen Guardians from Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, Fla., and Coast Guard Station Mayport, Fla., etched their name in the history books for being the first all Coast Guard softball team to participate in the World Military Softball Tournament.

With service members from all braches of the military converging on Panama City Beach, Fla., to play in this year’s tournament, an all Coast Guard softball team was an unfamiliar sight.

While past tournaments has featured Guardian participation on an individual basis playing along side other military branches, this year marked the very first entry of an exclusive Coast Guard team.

“For the last few years I’ve been trying to get a team together to play in this tournament,” said Petty Officer 2nd class Steve Woitt, a food services specialist stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher. “I have had some teams that could have played but things never worked out because of storms like Hurricane Katrina.”

Woitt has been the instrumental force behind the organization that has led to the creation of the team appropriately named Guardians of the First Coast.

“When I was stationed in Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina was the main reason I couldn’t organize a trip due to the fact we had 25 people at Station Gulfport, Miss., and that would have left only ten people standing watch,” said Woitt.

The tournament featured 70 teams from all four corners of the country. To make the tournament as competitive as possible, tournament organizers created four divisions based on skill level and equal participation.

The Guardians of the First Coast, playing in the intramural division, were victorious in two games. They also lost two games earning them a tie for fifth place nationally in the intramural division. The silver lining was a second place finish among teams competing from state of Florida.

“We were extremely pleased to have a Coast Guard team involved in this year’s tournament,” said Roger Hockey, military program director for the United States Specialty Sports Association.

“There are five branches of the military so there should be five branches represented at this tournament. This team is an exciting team to watch and I’m sure everyone who played them will tell you they are pretty good too,” said Hockey.

The Guardians of the First Coast is comprised of petty officers, chief petty officers and commissioned officers who use personal time or liberty to practice and travel.

In order to compete in the World Military Tournament, The Guardians of the First Coast competed in two qualifying tournaments just to be eligible. The qualifier tournaments were held in Jacksonville, and Augusta, Ga.

In addition, competing in the World Military Softball Tournament is not cheap either.

“We were scrounging around trying to raise enough money in order to help pay for entry fees, jerseys and equipment,” said Woitt.  “Thanks to the help of a sponsor and contributions from the Chief Petty Officers Association, and the morale committee, we were able to get two sets of jerseys and our entry fees to the different tournaments covered.”

The Guardians of the First Coast successfully raised nearly $ 2,000.

After each game the team would take the time to honor their fellow servicemembers abroad who may not have the luxury of competing in a tournament such as this one with a moment of silence and a small prayer.

“Playing softball is a privilege and the team never lost sight of that,” said Lt.j.g. Brian Beach the team’s first baseman. “It allowed us to interact with other branches of the military and the team saw that as an opportunity to display our core values of honor, respect, devotion to duty.”

Each time the Guardians took the field they were relatively unknown and often playing against teams with experience in the World Military Softball Tournament in previous years.

“It seems like we have been underdogs all year, but we have used that to inspire us to play better and beat some teams we weren’t expecting to beat,” said Woitt. “Now that we have played in this tournament, everyone on the team is hungry for more and anxious for the next tournament.”

With the added pressure of being the first Coast Guard team represented in the World Military Softball Tournament behind them, the Guardians of the First Coast turns their sights on winning the 2nd annual Seventh Coast Guard District Admiral’s cup tournament in to be held in Miami Oct., 9-11. The team is back to square one, the practice field, preparing for the upcoming Navy league season and Admiral’s cup.

For military teams interested in participating in the Admiral’s Cup, an all Coast Guard softball tournament held in Cooper City, Fla., Oct. 9-11, the deadline to sign up is Sept. 25.  The entry fee is $220 per team. Interested teams shall contact Mr. Bob Sova at (305) 953-2263.

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