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This year’s Victory Bowl selections include, from left, Harker Heights head softball coach Sarah Cruddas, Lady Knights softball player Sophie Young, Killeen baseball player Jackson Taylor, Ellison baseball player Preston Mills and Killeen head baseball coach Donald Trcka.

BELTON — Mixing service and sport with friendship and competition, some of the area’s top high school softball and baseball players are getting one last crack of the bat under the stadium lights.

The 11th annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Super Centex Victory Bowl is underway with baseball and softball games scheduled at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Tickets are $5 and good for both games.

The packed schedule of service, fellowship and games, along with workouts and teambuilding began Wednesday and continued Thursday with more service projects and the all-star games on Friday.

This year’s rosters include Killeen head baseball coach Donald Trcka, Harker Heights head softball coach Sarah Cruddas, Kangaroos baseball player Jackson Taylor, Ellison baseball player Preston Mills and Harker Heights softball player Sophie Young.

All players are recently graduated seniors nominated by coaches and selected by the Victory Bowl coaching staffs. Rosters include players from a 12-county Central Texas region containing 100 high schools.

Dressed in their blue and red team jerseys for official photos Thursday at UMHB’s adjacent Red Murff Field and Dee Dillon Field, coaches and players reflected on the unique privilege to participate in the event.

“It’s an honor to get to do this,” said Trcka, one of three coaches set to lead the Blue Team in baseball. “We get to work with these great students and great athletes. It’s a blessing.

“We practiced yesterday and their attitudes are great.”

“It’s a huge honor,” said Cruddas, who like her baseball counterpart is coaching one of her own athletes for the final time and also spending time with players she’s known as opponents, now in a more relaxed environment. “I think we’ll get even more out of it as coaches than they will as players.

“We are right along with them involved in the service activities. It’s something special.”

Both coaches said they contacted colleagues who have taken part in the Victory Bowl activities in past years and both said they were told to expect to work hard and that the experience was well worth the time and effort.

Both also said after just one day the experience was renewing their passion for coaching students.

“I needed this for my soul,” Cruddas said.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Mills said. “It’s an honor to be chosen for an all-star game like this.

“We’ve already seen a lot of teamwork and bonding and relationship building.”

Mills is on the Red team, playing against the Blue team Trcka is coaching that includes Taylor.

“It’s been exciting so far,” Taylor said. “It’s cool. Baseball is the reason we’re here, but it’s really the last thing on our minds.

“We’re doing service and creating bonds.”

He said he sought out the thoughts of his friend Bo Buckley, who played in the Victory Bowl last year and received only positive feedback.

All the players and coaches smiled when asked about the game.

“It will be competitive, but fun,” Taylor said. “It will be more relaxed than a regular game, but hopefully the Blue team will win.”

“I approach it the same way as any game,” Mills said. “I don’t like to lose.”

Young, an infielder, agreed the game was about more than playing softball.

“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve already been able to bond with a lot people.

“I can improve my skills and get closer to God.”

Young said she had never heard of the Victory Bowl and was surprised when her coach invited her to participate.

“I wasn’t sure at first,” she said, “but I thought it was a chance to get out of my comfort zone. I just want to do my best and have fun and meet people.”

While some players, like Mills, are signed to continue their sport at the college level, most, like Young, are prepping for their last time to suit up competitively.

“I think it will be a little emotional,” she said. “I’ve been playing this sport since T-ball, when I was the only girl on my brother’s team.”

“It’s fun to see the players interact together,” Cruddas said. “They will take this with them wherever they go.”

The FCA Victory Bowl football game is Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Waco ISD Stadium, and the volleyball game is 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Waco University.

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