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Belles softball celebrates 50 years

 The Belles softball team celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)
The Belles softball team celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV) (KNOP)
Published: Jun. 23, 2020 at 11:20 PM CDT
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The Belles softball team was started in 1970 by Gail Wicks. Wicks coached for more than 30 years, but stopped shortly before he passed away in 2005. In the 50 years since Wicks started the team, hundreds of girls have been drawn to the game of softball because of Wicks, and the legacy he left.

Geni Karre played for Wicks, coached under Wicks, then coached after him, and took over the management of softball tournaments after his passing.

"I played with him for four years, it was the best time in my life," Karre said. "All of us girls would go to Osgood for practice every day, we just couldn't get enough softball back then. He would say, 'softball practice is over,' and we'd say, 'could you hit some more?'"

Karre played softball in college, then came back to coach for the Belles.

"I came back home, had a family, and of course my girls played ball, so of course you have to coach, because you want to teach them the right way, the way Gail taught us: to have fun, and it's okay if you don't win," Karre said.

Karre isn't the only member of her family to play and coach for the Belles. Her niece, Jennifer Prince, played for her and Wicks, and now coaches the 14 and under Belles team.

"Once I was younger and started growing up, I traveled with them, with my aunt while she played and watched them play. I knew that that was just who I was going to play for. So, when I got the call from Gail one day, it was really exciting," Prince said.

Prince played for the Belles for four years, and has been coaching for "a long time." Prince coaches her daughter, Elli, who is the third generation in her family to play for the team.

"I knew my mom played for the Belles, and that her whole family all played for the Belles, and my cousin growing up played for the Belles, and I just knew that I wanted to play for the Belles too," Elli Prince said.

Elli Prince said the things she most enjoys about playing for the Belles is the relationships and memories she has created with her teammates.

Belles softball has had a positive impact on so many girls' lives, and that is something Wicks set out to do with his team. Wicks would have team family dinners before games, and made sure his players knew that it was okay to make mistakes.

"He was really big on softball is more than bats and balls. Softball is about camaraderie, about sisterhood, it's about family, it's about being together, and depending on each other," Jennifer Prince said. My family has always been a part of the Belles. I traveled with my aunt when I was very little, and I grew up to play with them, my daughter plays with them."

Wicks left a positive legacy on the area, and the current teams are trying to continue on that legacy.

"He just loves softball so much, and he loved teaching," Karre said. "If I could just do one tenth of what he did for me to [the players], I'd be a made person. Hopefully they get that from the parents that played for him."

"I can go to the grocery store and a girl will see my shirt and say, 'oh man I played for the Belles,' and I'm like, 'really what year and who was your coach?" Jennifer Prince said. "I've had parents come up to me and say, 'I want my daughter to play, I played for Gail back in the day,' so it is very enriched in our community here."

This year's Gail Wicks Memorial softball tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19, which Karre was disappointed by. However, Karre said the team hopes to hold a special event before the summer is over to commemorate the team's 50th anniversary. Karre said an alumni game might be played, or the team will try to schedule a game against the Sensations, because of the teams' rivalry.

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