Veteran North Medford softball assistant Rod Rumrey barks out advice on fielding grounders to a familiar figure across the diamond and it’s almost like stepping into a time machine.
As a member of the Black Tornado coaching staff since coming to the school in 1988, Rumrey has seen his fair share of talented players, but it’s an understatement to say these are special days for him.
Whereas it used to be his first-team all-state daughters Sara and Ali on the other end of his prodding, their shoes have been filled by Sara’s daughters Alex and Lauren Barry — and quite nicely at that.
As a senior second baseman, Alex Barry is batting .545 this season with 29 runs and 20 RBIs for the defending Class 6A state champion Black Tornado, which is 13-3 overall and 8-1 in Southwest Conference play. A sophomore shortstop, Lauren Barry — affectionately nicknamed Lolo — is batting .500 with 29 runs and 15 RBIs.
“Alex and Lolo are both middle infielders and Sara was a second baseman, so there’s a lot of similarities,” says Rumrey of the lineage. “Sometimes I turn around and I think it’s Sara there instead of Alex.”
For a program already steeped in tradition, it’s hard to imagine a greater pedigree in North Medford softball than that of the Barry sisters. Beyond Rumrey, their aunt and their mother, who served one year as head coach in place of legendary Tornado coach Larry Binney, their father Brent also was the Tornado’s head coach for two seasons and a mainstay coach in the youth system.
“Those are two girls that any team would love to have,” says North Medford head coach Chris Campbell. “We’re just lucky that they’re North Medford kids. The history of their grandpa and mom and aunt and everybody coming through has just been huge, and they want to continue with being a part of the tradition here and doing whatever it takes to see the team succeed.”
It’s a tradition both girls cherish and don’t take lightly.
“It’s pretty amazing, people definitely know our name and so we kind of have a tradition to uphold,” says the 18-year-old Alex. “It just makes me pretty proud of what we’re doing, especially being able to play together with my grandpa coaching us, it’s really cool. We usually have a pretty big fan base all the time and I just love all the support we have and that everybody knows how much Black Tornado tradition means to our family.”
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Grandpa Rod has only missed a handful of seasons in the Black Tornado dugout, a product of Binney’s departure to help get the Southern Oregon University softball program on the right foot from 2004-06.
He’s long since been retired after two very successful runs with the North Medford football program, beginning in 1988 when he came from Sweet Home.
He could sit in the stands with wife Julie, whom he calls the most unbelievable fan he’s ever been around for her dutiful presence not only through the careers of their three children but now with seven very active and athletically gifted grandchildren.
But that’s not who he is, and this is an opportunity few grandparents get to enjoy.
“At this point in my age, it’s kind of tough,” Rumrey admits of his coaching routine. “I don’t nearly do what I used to do, but I still come home a lot sorer. What probably is keeping me involved is these two girls (Alex and Lauren) are very important to our team and just very dedicated players, and I enjoy being out there with them as well as all the other girls. It’s a special opportunity.”
It has gone both ways for his granddaughters, who often bear the brunt of his gruff preachings but wouldn’t trade it for a second.
“Definitely my freshman year and sophomore year he was pretty hard on me and he got on me quite a bit and I was just kind of learning,” says Alex, “but I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s definitely taught me everything I know and my work ethic and how to keep going and push through. It’s kind of nice to have someone out there that can get on me and tell me what to do but also supports me and loves me unconditionally. I love that.”
Adds Lauren: “He’s seen everything in this program and it’s cool to have him there with us.”
It may be even better for Rumrey, who admits he was preoccupied with his football duties when his daughters came through the program and son K.C. was excelling on the baseball diamond.
“When you’re raising your own kids, you have so many other things that you have to be concerned with,” says Rumrey, “and the opportunity to coach your grandkids is little bit more relaxing and there’s more opportunity to sit back and really enjoy what they’re doing. With all the things I had going and my own kids had going, I missed a lot of their activities and things they were doing with my job and whatnot. With grandkids it’s a little different. It’s a good thing, it’s a fun thing, it’s special.”
And the fact that both have been so successful in their North Medford softball careers, as well as in volleyball, isn’t too shabby, either.
“Their work ethic is awesome and it’s paying off for them,” adds the proud grandpa. “They’ve paid the price as far as offseason work and it’s really coming around for them.”
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For all their hard work in the offseason and time spent together, the Barry sisters had never had an opportunity to play on the same team until Lauren reached the high school level last year.
And, to be honest, there was a little trepidation when they first took the field together.
“It was kind of like, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to go, are we going to get along out there?’” recalls Alex. “But we get along really well and it actually makes it a lot more fun. I love it.”
For someone growing up in her sister’s shadow, the opportunity to play on the same team was a long time coming for Lauren.
“I would always look forward to it, especially to high school; just knowing I could play with Alex was super exciting,” says Lauren. “It’s just like playing with your best friend.”
And that really has been the secret formula for the girls’ success for North Medford, and the program’s success with them handling the middle infield duties to complement senior pitcher Rylan Austin.
“I think it’s a benefit that we’re sisters up the middle because we have really good communication and we know who’s going where and when and so that helps a lot,” says Alex. “Plus, she can tell me what to do and I can tell her what to do and it works out fine. You don’t have to worry about someone taking it the wrong way.”
It’s a relationship that works well on the field, obviously, but stems from their closeness off the field.
“She’s definitely my best friend by far and going to high school with her the past two years has been really fun,” says Alex. “I just thank God every day that I have her as a sister and get to spend so much time with her. I feel like most siblings don’t have the ability to spend as much time as we do — and definitely don’t get along as much as we do — so that’s a pretty special thing.”
That goes ditto for Lauren, who had the tough task of playing shortstop in a veteran lineup that cruised to the state crown one year ago and was equal to the challenge, thanks in large part to her sister.
“All together it’s been super easy and fun,” says Lauren of her Black Tornado experience. “She knows how to pick me up and make me laugh when I’m not doing so good.”
“Off the field we’re best friends, we hang out all the time,” adds the 16-year-old standout. “She’s the funniest person I know. I have no one to compare her to because I just love hanging out with her.”
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On the field, there’s seemingly nothing the Barry sisters cannot do, and do at a high level.
For her career, Alex is batting .381 with 110 runs and 74 RBIs in 103 games. She’s only struck out 21 times — none this season — while hitting toward the top of the batting order. Her fielding has been superb with a .956 proficiency this year and only two errors.
“Alex just is a wizard with the bat,” says Campbell. “She can do anything you ask her. She can bunt, she can slap and drive in runs if she has to. And her glove speaks for itself. That kid can go deep in the hole for a backhand, run down balls, whatever you need … she’s just dynamic in the field and at the plate.”
Another important factor is the steady way in which Alex approaches every game, according to her sister.
“Alex is so consistent,” says Lauren. “Whenever a ball is hit to her I know she’s going to field it perfectly, and emotionally she’s so consistent ... you just know what you’re going to get from her every time she steps out there, which is cool.”
With Lauren, every day seems to bring improvement to what has already been a fantastic start to her career. In 47 games, she’s batting .423 with 56 runs and 35 RBIs and has drawn 20 walks compared to only seven strikeouts (just one this season). She also has eight stolen bases this year from the leadoff spot and has shined in the spotlight despite playing one of the more challenging positions.
“Lauren has been working hard at getting better, and you can see all the groundball work she’s done and time put in,” says Campbell. “She’s gotten a lot stronger arm, which is huge because she can get deep in the hole and throw people out.”
Lauren says she’s much more confident in herself this year at the varsity level and is thriving because of it, and her sister notes that the best is yet to come.
“She is by far the most athletic person I know,” says Alex. “She has strength, she has speed and has really just been working hard. We’ve been working since we were young so she has the skill. I’m just really excited to see what we can do this year and then the following years when I’m gone. I‘ll be watching her close because I think she can accomplish some amazing things.”
But that’s the future, and the girls are only concerned right now about the present as they strive for a ninth straight SWC title.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year,” says Lauren of Alex, “but we’ll have to take that step by step. Right now we need to focus on the next game because anything can still happen. Everyone on our team believes in each other and believes we’re going to be in the state championship again. We just have to keep working for that.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry