Team Sheppard member plays for AF in tourney

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- After weeks at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, trying-out and training for the Armed Forces Women's Softball championships, Tina Cooper returned to Sheppard full of memories and experience. 

Cooper spent seven days a week practicing, with usually two scrimmage games at night, at Hill getting ready for the championship game. 

"It was an experience and a lot of hard work," Cooper said. "Usually when you play it's only for a few hours a week. We were practicing all day." 

Before her time preparing at Hill, Cooper spent months getting ready for the tryouts and, if she made it, the training camp prior to the championship game. Cooper worked with Steve Gifford, an instructor with the 364th Training Squadron, three to four days a week. 

"We practiced hitting and worked on fundamentals," Cooper said. "He worked with me on anything he saw (she was doing) wrong." 

Cooper said she's known Gifford for years, and struck a deal for him to help her train. 

"Steve actually coaches a downtown basketball team. He wanted me to play for him, so I made a deal," Cooper said. "If he would help prep me for camp, I'd play in his team." 

After arriving at camp, Cooper said she was glad for all the time she spent practicing with Gifford. 

"All year I've been struggling with hitting," Cooper said. "I wasn't as accurate as I needed to be with hitting. He (Gifford) worked with me on my batting a lot. I don't think I would've made the team had I not worked with him." 

While Cooper is a strong outfielder, she said that had she not spent so much extra time hitting, she might have not been picked. 

"If it's going to be a lot of work for the coach (to get you ready) he's not going to pick you," Cooper said. 

The Army team went on to win the tournament, despite a valiant attempt by the Air Force team in their final two games against them, but Cooper is happy just to have the honor of competing at such a level behind her now. 

"The experience that I got is not something you're going to see at the base or downtown level," Cooper said. "The experience itself was amazing" 

While playing softball for over eight hours a day was tiring for Cooper, she's still energetic about playing in the future. 

"When I got back I wanted to try harder and do better, it made my drive that much stronger," Cooper said. "You know at what level you can play and you just want to keep going higher if you can." 

See last weeks article headlined, "Army wins armed forces softball tourney," for more information about the Armed Forces Women's Softball championships.