It's the beginning of a new sports season. You have a son or daughter playing ball, and you want to pitch in and do your part to help. So you sign up as a volunteer coach.
The team leader, a respected veteran of the sport, is working with the young group, trying to turn rookies into better ballplayers. But when the season starts, the coach isn't there.
And then the news comes - he won't be. At all.
That's where Joe Schilling found himself back in the middle of March.
Vince Mazza was to begin his second year at the helm of the East Juniata softball program this spring, a daunting task for anyone - even an experienced coach like Mazza - due to the youth an inexperience of the team. Mazza took the team and his new coaching staff through the paces during spring training, but was notably absent when the Tigers traveled to Mifflintown to face rival Juniata as the season kicked off.
Schilling, who went from the background to the forefront in a hurry, said back at the top of April that he was simply filling in for Mazza, who was under the weather that day.
I saw Schilling less than a week later, in Middleburg, and he again was filling the master's shoes. It would be unfair to Schilling to say he did anything less than the best under the circumstances - which, themselves, were not the best at the time. And the updated report was that it might be more serious than it seemed at first, but everyone still expected Mazza to return.
He didn't - midway into the season, the softball community learned that Mazza had been diagnosed with cancer, and would be unable to resume his duties. Schilling, now at the top, would have to run the team for the rest of the season.
But by that time, the team already was in a hole as broad as the Grand Canyon - no wins, few hits or runs and players who often seemed baffled by the positions they were asked to play.
The girls, responding well to a coach who was as much in unfamiliar territory as they were, took on whatever task was assigned. And, being young and resilient, they were able to brush off the string of losses the team suffered, most under the mercy rule.
I saw Joe again a week ago, and saw a different coach and a different team. It was hard, he explained, because he couldn't tamper with the philosophy that Mazza imparted to the girls through spring training - one that the coaches as much as the players were asked to buy into - without setting the team even further back in its development.
But the girls - and their coach - clearly were developing. Schilling demonstrated that he was ready to make changes - or just make demands - of players in an effort to push toward a better outcome. He saw who his better players were and moved them to the spots where he needed that level of talent.
The result? A pair of late-season victories for the Tigers, including a huge comeback effort in a game where the girls could have collapsed and thrown in the towel. And a coach who has proven that he can keep an even temper and a positive attitude even when the chips are down.
East Juniata's other ballclub is on the verge of something it has never achieved - a postseason game in District 4. The baseball team is the school's last to go without a playoff spot since it moved out of District 3 six years ago.
The Tigers must win their final two games, both road contests, to clinch. They are at Bible Baptist today and Carson Long Saturday afternoon.
East Juniata and Juniata came down to the wire in the Tri-Valley League West baseball race, and a totally unnecessary and pitcher-depleting game almost was the reward for the "winner."
The TVL apparently is unfamiliar with the concept of a tiebreaker, as we've seen several times in the past few basketball seasons when two and three teams will tie, and no one thinks to use head-to-head records and scoring data as a means to breaking it.
At least in basketball, it's more revenue for the host school and no rule limits the amount of minutes the center can play. But if you want to win the championship, you've got to decide whether to throw your No. 1 pitcher in the first game or the second, with the latter being the one that counts.
That's a formula for disaster, and a disservice that the league imposes in its members.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at email@example.com.