The curtains on the abandoned chicken house flapped wildly.
The winds from the sudden spring rainstorm kicked up red dust and rattled the exhaust fans.
Even though the old chicken house was as familiar to the young girls as their well-broken in leather gloves, it was a scary place to be when thunderclouds brought darkness early and rain pelted the roof.
The girls stood close together hoping to hear the rattle of the pickup truck coming along the road. Until then, they found some measure of security from the lights inside the house just up the hill.
They were relieved when they heard the truck turn into the farm road and the truck lights sent a bright beam into the darkening chicken house.
Most every day, Kailee Taylor and Ellie Barron came with their dads to the chicken house, but, today, they had come early to get things ready and to share a little girl talk.
The sound of the truck doors closing sent them scurrying to their "work." When their dads entered the chicken house, they were tossing a softball around, getting ready for the daily routine they had followed since they were about eight years old.
Both girls had literally grown up on the softball field at the recreation center in Troy. But the face of softball had changed. The lollygagging of slow-pitch softball had given way to the demanding fast-pitch game. To stay abreast of the game, the girls’ dads, David Taylor and Mark Kilpatrick, knew their daughters were going to require more instruction than they were prepared to give them.
"If they were going to be competitive, they needed instructions on the basic mechanics of both hitting and pitching," David said. "And, too, we knew a coach would be able to get their attention a little better than we could."
As eight-year-olds, the girls had played softball in the Dixie Darlings coach pitch league. Their team showed great promise by winning the district tournament and advancing to runner-up in the state tournament. Kailee and Ellie enjoyed the spoils of victory and were anxious to move up to the next level of competition.
"We both loved playing softball and knew it was something we wanted to keep doing," Kailee said. "But our dads told us, if we wanted to keep playing, we were going to have to really be serious about it and be willing to work hard."
But softball is an outdoor sport so Mother Nature would be in control of their practice schedule. On the icy-cold days, rainy days and the winter days when darkness came early, practice would have to give way to indoor endeavors — favorite television programs, a good book, chit-chatting on the phone — and a dozen other things young girls like to do.
So, Mother Nature was on their side. How demanding could practice be?
Their dads had the answer.
Several years earlier, area poultry farmers were required to make upgrades on their commercial chicken houses. Some farmers around Pike County opted to get out of the business rather than invest dollars in the upgrades. So, the countryside was scattered with chicken houses that had been converted to hay barns, livestock stalls and shelters for farming equipment.
A couple of those houses were on family property just down the hill from the Taylor home.
Why not turn one of the houses into a training facility for a couple of aspiring softball players?
"There was not a lot to do," Mark said. "Hay was stored in one end of the chicken house but the other end was open and there was plenty of room for both of the girls to throw at the same time."
The dads hung a tarp across the chicken house as a backstop so any passed balls wouldn’t roll under the hay bales. They flipped on the light switch and the chicken house was immediately an indoor softball training facility for pitchers.
The girls have taken pitching lessons from several coaches, Dee Hughes, Hal Wynn and David Dudley. And they get practice pointers from their dads.
"We practice just about every day when we don’t have a game, rain or shine," Ellie said. "When the weather is hot, it’s stuffy in here and there are mosquitoes and gnats and it’s always dusty. And, in the winter it gets cold and windy, but our dads put in a couple of heaters so we could keep practicing."
And the dads put in as much time as their daughters. They sit on old plastic buckets and are at the receiving end of every pitch. If the pitches can be handled bare-handed, they could be ripped by an opposing bat.
David and Mark have benefited from their daughters’ pitching lessons and developed into rather knowledgeable "farm" league coaches.
There is no doubting the hard work, dedication and nights under the lights at the chicken house have paid off.
David and Mark have coached their daughters’ travel team, the Patriots, to more wins than you can shake a bat at. They have enough "hardware" to open a store and then some. Winning for the Patriots is not just a tradition, it’s an expectation.
Kailee and Ellie, both eighth graders, are starters on the Lady Patriots softball team at Pike Liberal Arts School in Troy. They play the field.
And, they also play 75 or more games of travel ball each season and are starting pitchers.
This year, they will be playing for different travel teams, Kailee with the Patriots and Ellie with the Dixie Diamonds.
They might have an opportunity to face each other on the mound and that will be uncharted ground.
"We like playing together, so we’ll really miss that," Kailee said. "And, when we play each other, well, we don’t know how that will be yet."
But, when the game dust settles, the lights will go on in a chicken house in rural Pike County and the sound of balls hitting the leather will break the stillness of the night. The "chicks" will be in the house.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.