For the past several years, Mike Leverett has devoted plenty of time to getting through to Harlem's young female student-athletes.
"I remember going over there a couple years ago," the Harlem High School softball head coach said of Harlem Middle School. "I was talking to the kids about coming out, talking to them about how small we are. (Telling them) 'If you don't come out, we may not have a team.'"
Evidently, the message was received.
Days after both the high school's junior varsity squad and middle school's "B" team completed unbeaten seasons, the middle school's "A" team finished off its own undefeated season.
"It looks good for the Harlem program for the next four or five years," Leverett admitted. "I know we have a lot of good, young talent coming up."
The varsity team members are no slouches, either. Harlem finished its regular season with a 22-6 record and has clinched a spot in the state playoffs. That varsity squad has just two seniors, proving even further that the near future is bright on Harlem's softball fields.
The varsity has gotten contributions from several junior players.
One such player is Christian Mullis, the JV's pitching ace who also plays center field for the varsity.
Adding in the prowess of eighth-grader Amber Garrett, who struck out more than 100 batters in just 10 games for the middle school's "A" team, there is plenty of solid pitching coming up.
"We've got pitching that we haven't had before at all levels," JV coach Greg Aplin said. "We've also got consistent hitting from top to bottom in the lineups on all three of those teams."
Emily Aplin, the JV team's shortstop who also pitched a perfect game this season, said the season has been interesting because of the mix of seasoned and new players.
"At first, we had a lot of people who were just out here; they hadn't had much experience," said Aplin, who hit better than .700 this year with one strikeout from the cleanup spot.
"We started off, and we were winning. I was thinking, 'You know, if we all work together, and we can get through this undefeated.'
"We just kept making plays, and the girls who were not experienced were learning from the ones who were."
JV catcher Kimber Hill remembers one game in particular: a tight, back-and-forth game against Greenbrier High that Harlem won by one run with a late rally.
"Mostly the intensity," she said when asked what was most memorable about the game. "Especially in those last few innings ... it was one of our best games."
Coach Laura Collins noted that the middle school's "A" team's hard-nosed spirit was exemplified by its own slim, one-run win over Greenbrier Middle.
Though the Bulldogs made some errors early in the game, she said, they fought back and never gave up.
It's a team that featured Garrett shutting down opposing offenses; an infield made up entirely of travel ball players; and a talented outfield.
"Our team really works well together," Garrett said. "We really bond. There's no drama or anything. We all get along.
"We just have a good time when we come out here."
Lizzie Drake, the team's second baseman, attributed the success to the support of coaches Collins and Leslie Perdue.
"Our coaches deserve it because they just come out here and they spend their time on us to make us better," she said.
Lexi Mays was one of only a few seventh-graders on the "A" team. She said the group was special because of its solidarity.
"What makes it a good team is we just fit in together," she said. "We know what each other is thinking. We can laugh and giggle, but we can also get really serious and just play ball."
As for the future, Collins has enjoyed being a part of building the future.
"We think that's an awesome feat for us to have that many years of girls coming up and building the program," she said. "We've really tried to build the program. This year, it's really proven itself.
"I'm amazed at the things the girls have been able to do."