According to CollegeSportsScholarships.com, each of the 286 Division 1 college softball teams in the US can give up to 12 scholarships a year. Of those 286 teams, five are considered “powerhouses” that are consistently good year after year. So naturally the coaches on those powerhouse teams are scrambling to recruit the top talent in the country, while every young softball player dreams of one day catching the eye of a D1 powerhouse.
Since those powerhouses only have 12 scholarships to offer collectively each year, they must carefully and strategically decide which 12 players to award those scholarships.
Which helps explain the magnitude of the phone call Daviess County Lady Panther catcher Millie Roberts received on New Year’s Eve inviting her to verbally commit to one of those coveted powerhouse softball programs at Auburn University—as an 8th grader!
“It’s a really good feeling,” Millie told Owensboro Parent. “But really this just motivates me to be even better and to work even harder.”
Only a handful of 8th grade players in the country verbally commit each year. Typically a player doesn’t commit to a college team until their sophomore year, and they don’t officially commit until they’re a junior. So what does it mean to “verbally” commit as an 8th grader?
“It means Auburn will not look for anybody else in my position my graduating year. And it means I won’t look at any other colleges,” a very humble and gracious Millie explained with a slight too-good-to-be-true tone still in her voice.
Millie’s road to Auburn began locally in the Owensboro Catholic league as a 4-year-old. She then played for local travel ball teams and eventually Daviess County Middle School under the leadership of Coach John Biggs.
Roberts said she got serious about the sport when she started playing Class A travel ball. “My first year with the Tennessee Fury (12 and under travel league based in Chattanooga, TN) was the first time I was exposed to the idea of playing in college and being around girls who were trying to get to a higher level.” It was while she was playing with the Fury that she was recruited by the Beverly Bandits travel team in Chicago for her batting strength last August. The Bandits are an invite-only team that is well known by college coaches as a team that prepares players for the collegiate level of play.
But even though things have gotten “serious,” Millie still has that youthful love for the game she found when she was four. “What I love about softball is I can escape from everything else. When I’m playing, I don’t have to think about anything, I just focus on the game. And I love that I get to travel and see new places. I’ve made a lot of really great friends all over the country.”
Obviously that focus on the game has served her well. After attending winter camp on Auburn’s campus in December, where she slugged six balls over the fence on the Tigers’ home field, Roberts got the full attention of newly named assistant coach Eddy Ketelhut (who coincidentally formerly coached the 16U Beverly Bandits).
For Roberts, it was the beauty of the campus that sealed the deal. “I fell in love with it. It was the prettiest campus I’ve ever seen. Plus it’s in the south, it’s always warm, and it’s in the SEC (southeastern conference).” Millie says she wants to be a physical therapist, although she clearly has a while until she has to make that decision.
But for now, with the pressure of the recruiting process off her shoulders, it’s back to playing for the love of the game.