The Mustangs would like to thank Jay Roberson and Ryan Greenwood for the feature they did on the Mustangs 40th Anniversary. Jay Roberson also coaches the Birmingham Thunderbolts 04 team and has been a long time friend and partner to the Mustangs. You can read full article text below.
This year will mark the 40th anniversary for the Tampa Mustangs travel softball organization. It is one of the oldest and most successful teams on the national stage. Since the summer of 1981, the club has won 27 National Championships in each of the age divisions and had over 400 players to go on to play college softball at over 60 different colleges.
Founder Ray Seymour, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 72, and his wife, Cathy, started the travel softball organization to give local girls an opportunity to continue to play competitively at a high level after their local recreational leagues were finished. They were the first travel softball team on the West Coast of Florida.
The organization also established playing with good sportsmanship, developing their teams to play on a national level, preparing their players for college recruiting, and learning to win and lose with class.
“What I find most satisfying is the focus on class and success. We won’t sacrifice doing things the right way or having the right people, just to win games,” added TJ Goelz, board member and head coach of Tampa Mustangs - TJ. “We want people that are invested in the tradition, reputation, and success of the organization and not just their team.”
After the passing of Coach Ray, the decision was made to start a board of directors to help Cathy navigate operations and provide support for all the different aspects of running a travel softball organization on a national level.
“It was really, really emotionally draining on her,” said David Handler, board member and organizational coach. “For the past three or four years, we have been helping Cathy run the organization and make decisions as a group. She has been much appreciative of that.”
The current Mustangs board consists of six members, Cathy Seymour, Sherrie Seymour Steeper (daughter), Handler, Goelz, Rene' Ciccarello Jr., and Kris Blankenship. Steeper is also the current Mustangs president. Along with guidance from the board, she and Cathy share handling any final decisions.
When Coach Ray first started the operation, it mainly consisted of a team in each of the older 18U and 16U age groups. As the game evolved from slow pitch to what we see now in fastpitch softball, Coach Ray quickly adapted to put his teams in position to compete on the national level with other teams from other states that had already adopted the new game.
“Being a national club started almost from day one [in 1995]. When Coach Ray started, there really wasn't that much going on here in Florida, so we need to go where the teams are playing,” described Handler. “He had to take his teams nationally, because there was really no other place. Coach Ray went to nationals for 21 straight years.”
As time passed, the Mustangs realized they needed to expand their teams into other age groups to help develop their players and prepare them for the national competition. This would not only benefit local and regional players looking to play at a collegiate level, but also provide a path to help them reach their goals within a quality establishment.
“During my time with Coach Ray, I learned not only how travel softball works, but how we do things here at the Mustangs,” asserted Handler. “When the Mustangs show up, they are getting a team that is prepared and well coached and will treat the game, and their opponents, and the officials with respect.”
“Tampa Mustangs was more than just a name on a jersey. It was an opportunity to represent our organization, community, and the state of Florida,” said current University of Florida player Kali Reis.
“We take a lot of pride in doing things right. It all comes from the way Coach Ray approached the game,” added Handler. “He was a college coach while running the Mustangs organization.”
Coach Ray was also the head softball coach at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa for 25 years, winning 683 games and capturing three Suncoast Conference Championships. His love for the game of softball and what he envisioned for his teams established a solid foundation for the sport in Florida. His vision of seeking out the best competition not only created more visibility for the teams, but it also embodied his philosophy of helping them be the best they could be.
“This top-tier organization allowed me to play top talent across the country and be in some of the best tournaments. Without Tampa Mustangs, I would not be where I am today,” expressed Avery Goelz, daughter of TJ and Florida Gators softball player. “This organization has made me a better person and a better softball player.”
The Mustangs currently have 13 active teams, all in the state of Florida. While some national clubs may have over 60-70 teams spread out all over the United States, the organization has made a commitment to maintain a better sense of quality control for their brand of teams and grown in a slower controlled fashion.
“Criteria for a team to have some record of success and have coaches, players, and parents who conduct themselves with class at all times in all situations,” stated TJ Goelz.
There is a running trend with the Tampa Mustangs that originated with Coach Ray, and that revolved around quality control with all aspects of the organization. From the foundation of the club, to the staff and coaches, to their organizational approach, and to the product they put on the field each and every weekend across the nation, there is a standard that has been set.
“We've turned down hundreds of teams over the years that want to become Mustangs, because we want to make sure that all of our teams have the same goals,” clarified Handler. “We're not a regional or a local organization. We are a national level organization. Every one of our teams know that.”
“I think what separates the Tampa Mustangs is consistency. We do not have a lot of turnover in the organization. We remain committed to having quality coaches for every team,” said TJ Goelz.
The teams’ coached by TJ Goelz have carried the torch representing the organization on the national stage by having a ton of success. From the moment he joined the Tampa Mustangs operation in 2012, he has set the bar high for the expectations of the current teams. Over the past 8 years, his teams have finished 27 of 31 national events in the Top 5. They finished 20 of the 31 with Top 3 finishes. They won the PGF National Championship in 16U in 2015.
“Tampa Mustangs -TJ is a program that will get you ready for the next level and has prepared me for college softball and life,” stated Mustangs alum and current Gator Katie Kistler.
In honor of all the contributions that Coach Ray made to the game of softball for the Tampa Mustangs organization and the state of Florida, the Ray Seymour Invitational softball showcase has been established to continue to promote the game at a high level and provide another quality avenue for players to be seen by college coaches.
“The Tampa Mustangs organization had one of the first true showcases years ago, but it lost its luster over time. Dave Handler and I wanted to honor the founder of the oldest fastpitch organization in Florida, Ray Seymour, by establishing a first class event that would be part of a series with the other great events in the southeast,” explained TJ Goelz. “The Ray Seymour Invitational completes the grand slam of southeast showcases by strategically partnering with Will Tomasello of Legacy Event Management, Jay Roberson of Bolts Fivestar, and Jeremy Higdon of Scenic City/ConnectSports. College coaches have another event they can attend to recruit where the top teams will play and the event will be run well.”
The contribution to softball in the state of Florida that started 40 years ago with Coach Ray and Cathy with the Tampa Mustangs, will continue pave the way for many college careers for young girls in Florida.
“The Tampa Mustangs organization has changed the lives of many young girls including my own, since it all started in 1981. I am so thankful Mr. Ray and Mrs. Seymour gave my team the opportunity to become a part of the Tampa Mustangs organization,” added Kinsey Goelz, oldest Goelz daughter and on the University of Florida softball team. “Without them, we would not have been able to grow, compete, travel, make unforgettable memories and win national tournaments all over the country.”