By Ken Lay
When Joe Birchfield founded the Knoxville Explosion softball program he wanted to provide a positive experience for young players regardless of talent level or socio-economic background.
“We don’t focus on wins and losses,” said Birchfield, who started the program in 2007. “We concentrate on effort, not results.
“I started [coaching] in men’s softball and then moved to baseball and then went to girls softball and I just got tired of watching coaches go out and verbally abuse kids. Some of these coaches don’t have the tools.”
Birchfield started the Explosion Organization, which now has six teams and five head coaches, wanting to make a difference by making the game of softball fun.
“We’re going to be different,” said Birchfield, who coaches both the 14-U and ’00 teams. “When you ask a girl why she plays softball, she tells you that it’s fun. That’s the first thing that she tells you.
“And it’s a game. We know that you’re going to make errors and when one of our girls makes an error, we tell them to flush it and they make a flushing motion with their hands. We know that you’re going to make errors, but what we don’t want is to make another error.”
All of the Knoxville Explosion head coaches belong to the Positive Coaches Association (PCA) and take an on-line course that teaches them to coach in an upbeat manner.
The Explosion coaches, who include Birchfield, Craig Webb (’01), Brad Young (’02), Scott Blankenship (’03) and Shane Alvey (8-U) all must know the game and be good to the kids, according to Birchfield.
“We coach kids but we don’t berate them,” Birchfield said. “We have physical and mental training in our program. “Our players get instruction from [coaches from the Knoxville] Thunder School. I have the girls go to Johnny Long [for strength and conditioning] and we have a mental conditioning program that we got from the Navy.”
Birchfield also said that he wants all players to enjoy softball.
“I have kids who have parents who are doctors and lawyers and I also have kids who are dirt poor,” he said. “I have some kids who have parents who are in legal trouble or jail and I have kids whose parents may not be in the picture.”
No player is turned away due to financial hardships.
Birchfield hosts the Atomic City Baseball Tournament in Oak Ridge to raise money for the Explosion. The Explosion players work the tournament, a fall fundraiser that raises 90 percent of the program’s money. Other revenue to run the program comes from corporate sponsorships.
All the coaches are volunteers.
“One hundred percent of the money we raise goes to the kids,” Birchfield said. “The coaches don’t get paid.
“The girls [players] are all great girls and they all hold a special place in my heart.”
The Knoxville Explosion Organization is comprised of successful teams. Softball, however, is only part of the story.
Each player must take care of her academic responsibilities, behave in school and perform community service during the offseason.
“I’m a stickler for grades and if a kid gets in trouble in school, they have to come and tell me and I sit them,” Birchfield said. “The girls also do community service.
“We’ve adopted the Smoky Mountain Children’s Home and most of our girls buy Christmas presents for those kids. Some of our other teams spend time around Christmas at a vets’ home.”
Birchfield makes no bones about the fact that he doesn’t emphasize winning but the 2013 season has begun for four of the five teams. Those squads have already combined to win 100 games.
The Explosion’s 14-U team will begin its season after the high school season is completed.
Birchfield said that all of his older players have made their respective middle school and high school teams.
“We have a 100 percent success rate with our kids making their high school or middle school teams,” he said.