By DAVID DRIVER
Daily News-Record 1/12/21
After New Market won its semifinals series over Grottoes, team president Lisa Hart spoke to members of the Shockers and congratulated them on the victory.
A few days later, when New Market was swept in four games by Broadway, Hart again addressed her team after the Rockingham County Baseball League (RCBL) finals series last summer.
“She talked to us a good 10 minutes after the game,” Shockers’ manager Nolan Potts recalled Sunday. “She said she was proud of us.”
Potts feels Hart, a resident of Timberville, will bring that same passion in her new role as the first woman commissioner in the RCBL. She took over recently for Randy Atkins, who had a two-year tenure and will remain to work in media relations and with RCBL interns.
“She really does love the RCBL,” Potts said on Sunday of Hart, a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High. “She does a lot behind the scenes the players don’t know about it. She has literally grown up in the league, her whole life. I have come to appreciate what she does. Everybody in the league knows she is a lifer. I think she will stay the course. She is going to stick to the bylaws, how they were written. She is going to stick to it.”
Hart had been approached before about the role as RCBL commissioner.
“I kind of stuck with New Market,” said Hart, the president of the Shockers since 2004 who has also been on the board of directors for the RCBL. “ They were pretty insistent they wanted me to step into the position.”
Hart grew up around the game of baseball since her grandfather, the late Bobby Strickler, helped New Market join the RCBL in the 1960s.
But that is not the only thing that makes her qualified to be the first commissioner, according to Potts, who played at Shenandoah University in Winchester.
“She’s also a straight shooter and you never have to guess what she’s thinking because she’ll let you know whether you want to hear it or not, and I appreciate that about her,” noted Potts.
Hart recalls a birthday party for her grandfather that was attended by the late Karl Olschofka, a long- time commissioner of the RCBL and a member of the league’s Hall of Fame. He grew up in New York before moving to the Valley to help his parents run the Blue Stone Inn, according to rcblonline.com.
“You have to keep this going when we are gone,” was his message to Hart, she said. “That is something that stuck with me, that conversation. To not have it, there is something our kids would really miss out.”
Hart’s grandfather began the first New Market team in the RCBL in 1964. She used to ride in a pickup truck with him as he worked on the field at Rebel Park.
“That is my earliest memory,” she told the News-Record.
The RCBL had several Division I players in 2020 as the Valley Baseball League did not play due to the pandemic. And the nearby Appalachian League, for decades a pro circuit, will now be a college-amateur league.
“Next year will be another year of changes especially with MLB announcing the new format of the Appalachian League. It is not clear yet how that will affect our recruiting especially inside our recruitment boundary, which may need to be extended to accommodate the pending competition,” Hart said on the RCBL website. “Also with the VHSL running their spring sports deep into June, this is sure to present some obstacles our scheduling committee will need to overcome.”
“Our season normally starts Memorial Day weekend but that may change in 2021. We have several teams that share fields with High Schools and/or Valley League teams and these factors could push our opening day back later in the summer for another condensed season,” she added.
The first woman to play in the RCBL was Lauren Jefferson. She first played for Montezuma in 2011 and went into the RCBL Hall of Fame a few years later. Jefferson and Hart worked together on other RCBL Hall of Fame matters as well.
“I’m so excited,” Jefferson, the director of communications at EMU, said of Hart. “She is extremely knowledgeable, she is a very good listener. She has been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t.”
Kim Ng became the first woman general manager in the majors last fall when she was named to that role by the Marlins. Last week, Bianca Smith was named the first Black woman to be a coach in the minor leagues when she was hired by the Boston Red Sox.
“The NFL has female coaches on the sidelines. That is the way things are going and rightfully so,” Potts said. “There are a lot of women out there that can do jobs better than men can. If they are qualified they deserve an opportunity to show what they can do.”
“In our country we have not done the best job of that. If you are able to do the job, you are going to get an opportunity. She probably knows the league inside and out better than anybody. I think it is great for our league,” Potts added of Hart.
The RCBL is considered one of the oldest amateur baseball leagues in the country. The first champion, Broadway, was crowned in 1924. The Bruins of Broadway won that title in 2020 over New Market.