Lou Bishop didn’t build a sports car, or create a soft drink, or cobble together some baffling new technology that speeds people through the 21st century.
But he could probably farm his skills out to any Fortune 500 company on the topics of brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.
As efficient as a Porsche, as reliable as Coke and as forward-looking as Google, Bishop’s run as director and coach of the TC (Tri-Cities) Tremors club and his Blue Chip showcase tournaments has carved his name onto the national scene in youth softball. Along the way, dozens of athletes have benefited with opportunities to play at the collegiate level.
Based out of Binghamton, NY., Bishop has carefully monitored how the Tremors go about their business as club softball evolved in the past few decades. Parents and athletes make a profound investment of time and money to participate in youth sports these days, and Bishop strives to offer a real return on the gesture.
“The idea is to play the highest caliber of softball you can, and have fun doing it. Stress isn’t good for anyone,” said Bishop, who started coaching almost 25 years ago and got in the fray at first to coach his younger sister, Mary. “If you can perform in a stressful situation by staying calm and cool, that’s having fun. There’s a time to have fun, there’s a time to be serious, and there’s a time to kick some (butt).
“You’ve got to find a medium through all that stuff to make it work, and I think we’ve done that. School is more important than softball, because if you don’t have the grades you aren’t going anywhere — I refuse to take them from their studies. We’ve done well at the larger events, probably better than other people expected.”
The Tremors were just a one-team venture for many years, but girls would come from hours away to play for Bishop, who would fold a couple of national-scale championship events into the schedule while sharpening his contacts with the collegiate scene. Today, the Tremors are casting a larger shadow with three 18u teams, two 16’s, two 14’s and a 12u.
And with his regional accomplishments widely known and appreciated, Bishop is making a leap of faith and starting two “franchise” 16u teams – one on Long Island, and one in Buffalo. Both squads are about four hours away from home base, which proves Bishop knows how to grow a brand.
“The only reason I did that was because some people approached me; I had relationships with these people through the tournaments and clinics I run,” he said. “They liked how we did things, and they wanted to bring our way to their organization. It’s a one-year shot to see if it works.
“Sometimes you have to change with the times. If it will help your program, and people will think you are better for it, you’ve got to try.”
When Tim Lee was looking for a more thoughtful softball experience for his daughter, he knew that the Tremors were probably a good fit. Eventually, Lee joined the growing staff with the club and coached the 12’s and 14’s – today, he’s an assistant with the 18’s.
Lee has seen ex-players circle back to work with the Tremors program, and he’s not the least bit surprised Bishop’s vision of how club softball should look is catching on elsewhere.
“We understand it should be about the kids, and not about coaches yelling and screaming. Right now, kids and parents are looking for that support,” Lee said. “How to help girls become young women, and not just in softball but in the world itself. Building confidence and providing support is a big deal, where maybe way back when, people were looking for tougher, harder (toned) coaches.
“We are growing for the same reasons I was drawn to the Tremors, and why other coaches were. We give that support. Lou ends up talking to many people, and he has a good rapport with them. We’re getting calls about expanding, and I guess anytime you get your name out there on a positive note, it’s a good thing, even if there’s some risk involved.”
One thing people are still talking about is the time Bishop put up ads on a billboard and two bus stops right near the Aurora Sports Park in Colorado, one of the showpiece sites of Triple Crown’s Fireworks/Sparkler tournament over the July 4th holiday. At the time, Triple Crown was rolling out its national rankings, and Bishop knew his team wasn’t well-known enough to likely garner a lot of votes.
So, the billboard and bus stop ads encouraged team to “Vote Tremors” while on the other side of the ad, his Blue Chip showcase events were promoted. It was quintessential Bishop — a bit of East Coast swagger mixed with humor. All of this was seen by thousands of people, streaming in and out of the field complex as the tournament played out.
“We go to big events, but we didn’t have the national recognition a lot of teams had in the top tier of that poll. Probably a lot of teams that voted wouldn’t know much about us,” Bishop said. “I was joking with a coach and I just said, ‘I’m getting a billboard.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not’ and I said, ‘Well, sure I am.’ I don’t remember the price, but I was flabbergasted at how cheap it was.
“It all started as kind of a joke, but I needed votes! I wanted to build that Blue Chip event, and where better to do it than where there’s a million teams moving around, and the best teams. I’m sure people said I was an idiot, and had other interesting things to say. I died laughing when I saw it. We played the Texas Firecrackers, and I’d never met (the coach) before. At the home plate meeting, she looks at me and says, ‘You’re the guys with the billboard.’”
When it’s time to be serious, however, the Tremors know how to keep perspective. Through Blue Chip tournaments, the Stop DWI Tournament of Champions has for 13 years drawn top-level competition and actively spread the word to young athletes about the costs of making bad decisions. More than 70 teams participate, and over 80 colleges use it as a recruiting platform.
“It’s trying to bring a message to the girls outside of softball, some real-life meaning through the game. Depending on schedules, we’ll get state troopers to come and talk before the first games,” said Bishop, who worked with a Stop DWI Christmas basketball tournament provider to brand his fastpitch event with that title. “There’s been two years out here with drastic floods that demolished maybe a quarter of the community; we let everyone know what happened, and it became a goodwill tournament at that point. We collected food and clothing from the teams that came.
“You have to remember where you came from. Yeah, we all want to win and to compete, but at the end of the day it’s just a game. You go home to your family, you talk to friends … real life is more important.
Maddie Reese is a former player who is wrapping up a terrific season at a D-I school, and has very fond memories of her days with the Tremors. She is a multi-position asset for the squad at Iowa State, where she will secure a degree in kinesiology and take those skills to an internship this summer and likely a hitch at a graduate school out west.
She would car pool with several other players and travel two-plus hours each way to play for the Tremors.
“Lou was great talking to coaches, and he put me in a great spot to be recruited. Any school I was interested in, he made sure I got a good look,” she said. “I came in as an infielder, but talking to Lou more I realized to make myself more desirable, I should learn some other positions. I got the opportunity to play outfield, and that’s where I got my first start.
“Lou’s philosophy is that every player is different and has their own set of needs. He knew players needed to be working on those things outside of practice, and he thought players needed to take charge of their own development. All the Tremors keep in touch; we’ll cross paths and share memories. Lou created an atmosphere where people saw the tradition and wanted to be a part of it.”
Bishop’s future on the diamond will also involve the raising of his young son; he said he’ll find a way to keep his hand in the softball side.
“Once my son is able to play, I’ll still be involved with the Tremors someway, somehow,” he said, laughing. “I’ll be their George Steinbrenner figure, maybe.”