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High school softball game features two Seminole head coaches

Seminole coaches and players gather after the Moore Haven versus Okeechobee softball game April 23, 2021, at Okeechobee High School. From left in front row, Moore Haven head coach Jaryaca Baker, Summer Gopher, Preslynn Baker, Lexi Thomas, Elle Thomas, Illa Trueblood, Aaryn King, Tehya Nunez, Moore Haven assistant coach Brianna Nunez and Okeechobee head coach Mary Huff. Moore Haven assistant coach Preston Baker is in the back row. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

OKEECHOBEE — The final score wasn’t necessarily the most significant part of the high school varsity softball game when Moore Haven visited Okeechobee on April 23.

Instead, the importance of the evening was that two tribal members faced each other as head coaches, which is a rare occurrence for the Seminole Tribe. Very few Seminoles have coached high school sports at non-tribal schools – let alone be head coaches – so it was a big deal when Moore Haven’s Jaryaca Baker faced Okeechobee’s Mary Huff.

Additionally, Baker’s assistant coaches – her father Preston and Brianna Nunez – are tribal members. Seminoles were in both line-ups, too. Sisters Elle and Lexi Thomas started for Okeechobee at shortstop and center field, respectively. Moore Haven featured starters Preslynn Baker in the circle and Summer Gopher at third. Aaryn King, Tehya Nunez and Illa Trueblood also played for the Terriers.

Jaryaca Baker and Huff are former standouts at Okeechobee who went on to play in college.

“I think I was coaching the (Okeechobee) JV team in Jaryaca’s senior year and then I think I coached Bri her senior year,” said Huff, who has been at the helm of the Brahmans program for nearly a decade. “It was cool to play against them (tonight). Everybody is here. It’s cool to keep it local and for everyone to root on kids they watched grow up.”

Although perhaps not as vibrant an atmosphere as would be in non-pandemic times, spectators still mostly filled up the stands behind home plate and tailgated beyond the left field fence.

Okeechobee shortstop Elle Thomas prepares to tag out Moore Haven’s Tehya Nunez at second base. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Baker said she, Huff and Nunez were all fortunate to have their parents coach them while growing up. But Baker said having tribal members as coaches only lasted for so long in their playing days.

“We never see other Native Americans coaching high school sports,” she said.

That’s why Baker believes it’s so vital what she and Huff are doing as head coaches as well as her assistants.

“I feel like the main thing is for young tribal members – boys and girls – to see us doing more outside the rez. When they see us coaching and doing things, they know they can do those things, too,” Baker said.

Of course, just because Seminoles are coaching Seminoles does not mean it’s going to be easy for the players.

Moore Haven pitcher Preslynn Baker fires a throw to first base for an out on a bunt by Okeechobee on April 23, 2021, in Okeechobee. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“I’m really hard on my girls this year, and especially my sister (Preslynn), but I want them to know they can do more if someone pushes them to do more,” Baker said. “For us to have as many tribal member kids in our program as we do makes me really happy. I want to see my people always be better.”

As for the game, Okeechobee cruised to a 10-0 win against the far younger Terriers. In fact, Preslynn Baker is only an eighth-grader, but she has a varsity arm. She battled her older opponents and notched a handful of strikeouts, and also drilled a clean single up the middle, all of which bodes well for Moore Haven’s future.

Elle and Lexi Thomas starred at the plate for Okeechobee. Both delivered RBI hits that paved the way to victory.
Elle is a junior; Lexi is a freshman.

“They’ve been doing really well for me. I can’t complain,” Huff said.

Elle, a three-year starter, bats in the clean-up spot and is one of the team’s top hitters.

“She is definitely the hardest-hitting, hardest-swinging person in the line-up,” Huff said. “This (season) is the best I’ve ever seen her at the plate.”

After the game, both teams shifted their focus to the district playoffs.

Lexi Thomas delivers a base hit for Okeechobee against Moore Haven on April 23, 2021. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Moore Haven’s Summer Gopher sprints to first base against Okeechobee on April 23, 2021.. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
From left, Moore Haven assistant coaches Preston Baker and Brianna Nunez, and head coach Jaryaca Baker — Preston’s daughter — watch their team face Okeechobee. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. He also worked for more than a decade in management and public relations for a hockey program in New England that produced several college and NHL players. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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