The Chicago Bandits have won four National Pro Fastpitch championships since starting play in 2005. While they have built championship teams on the field, they are also building championship players off the field at the Bandit Academy.
Operating from the Dome at the Parkway Bank Sports Complex in Rosemont, Illinois, the Bandit Academy is a fastpitch softball training facility for players, teams and coaches. The Bandit Academy offers private instruction, team workouts, camps, clinics, and other events.
The four different camps offered focus on specific aspects of the game:
The All-Skills camp teaches general defensive and offensive techniques. Drills include increasing bat speed, mental game strategies, speed developing drills, base running, throwing and defensive skills.
Catching Camp provides instruction on stance, signs, receiving, framing, blocking, throwing, fielding bunts, tags, and the mental aspects of dealing with pitchers. It's aimed at all catching levels, from the beginner catcher to those with much more experience,
Pitching Camp includes “spins, spins, and more spins!” It also focuses on pitching form, using the whole body and not just the arm.
The Coaches Clinic is an interactive session covering many aspects of the team and game. Various on the fields drill are be broken down. Instructors teach techniques to sharpen all skills physical and mental.
Holly Scott is the Director of Operation and the pitching instructor at the Bandit Academy. A College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Player of the Year in 2009, Holly pitched and played outfield for North Central College. Currently the pitching coach for NCC, Holly has more than 10 years of coaching experience.
Instructor Abby Ramirez has played three seasons with the Chicago Bandits. The Illinois Gatorade Softball Player of the Year in 2013 out of Trinity High School, Abby went on to star at the University of Michigan. With the Wolverines, Abby was a two time All-Big Ten second team selection at shortstop, among other awards and accolades. Abby signed with the Bandits in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. In 2019, she was named to the All-NPF team at second base. Most recently, Abby played for Athletes Unlimited in their inaugural season.
Instructor Joey Lye is a native of Toronto, ON, Canada, where she was a four-year letter-winner in both softball and ice hockey at Williams College. Joey began her collegiate coaching career as an assistant coach at Williams in 2010. Her coaching career eventually led her to Bucknell University, where she served as Head Coach from 2018-2020. As part of her training for the 2021 Canadian Olympic team, Joey recently played in the inaugural season for Athletes Unlimited.
Jourdan Skirha is the Assistant General Manager of the Bandits and also an instructor at The Bandit Academy. At Oak Forest High School, Jourdan earned all-conference honors as a sophomore, junior, and senior. A four year versatile player at Drexel University, in 2017, she was nominated for Drexel University’s Best Athletic Play for her pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam. She has been professionally instructing softball since graduating from Drexel. Jourdan is also a proud mom to Bandit, the official team dog of the Bandits.
I recently caught up with Abby right after one of her coaching sessions at the Bandit Academy. Abby gave the basics on the Bandit Academy, as well as discussing what players and parents should expect, the importance of quality coaching and more.
Abby also stressed that the Bandit Academy isn't limited to onfield instruction. The instructors are very dedicated to helping shape young players into quality young people and growing the game. This is a recurring theme I have heard from my first experience covering the Bandits many years ago. It's not coach speak or lip service. I have seen first hand many times how dedicated the players are to inspiring, encouraging and helping young players. As much as the Bandit Academy is definitely a business, it is very much a community service, giving direction to today's youth.
This aspect should not get lost in the shuffle of the excellent game instruction taught at the Bandit Academy. It is this dual focus which makes the Bandit Academy so special. Anyone entering the Bandit Academy will come out a better player and a better person. It is summarized best in the Bandit Academy's stated goal “to continue to improve, build upon, and create even more future opportunities in our sport.”