PANAMA — In the 1970s, one of the most popular situation comedies was “All in the Family.”
While there's no sit-com in this LeFlore County community, there is a family connection with the Panama Lady Razorbacks softball team.
Three players — senior pitcher Taylor Eaves, sophomore catcher Kendra Swindle and junior shortstop Stephanie Barcheers — get the honor of playing for their uncle, Panama's coach Grant Ralls.
“It was brought up when I took the program back over (in 2011) that I was going to have three nieces playing for me,” said Ralls, whose team will face Cyril/Cement at 3 p.m. Thursday at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City in the Class 2A State Tournament. “But I told them that they didn't need to worry because all three of them can play. They're grounded. They're good ball players, but they're just three of the nine players on the field. That's what it's all about. They've handled it (being related) real well. I give them all the credit. Sometimes it's hard to play for your uncle or other kin folks, but we've kept that separate. We don't let that even come into the mix. If they didn't know it, no one would even know that they're my nieces. We make it a family laugh, and we all have a good time with it.”
The nieces do not see it as playing for their uncle, but for their coach.
“People think we get favored, but he treats us just like we're another player,” Swindle said. “He goes just as hard on us as on any other player.”
“I don't think of him as my uncle,” Eaves said. “I just think of him as my coach. When he tells me to do something, I do it because he's my coach. I listen to him as if I would any other coach.”
As far as the nieces themselves go, they may have unique feelings for each other on the field.
“Sometimes it can be frustrating, and sometimes it's fun,” Barcheers said. “We're always on each other. We pretty much act as coaches for the other two. We're like our own coaches. We expect each other do stuff more than maybe our other teammates. We're just really competitive.”