The New York State Public High School Athletic Association softball state championships were scheduled to take place last weekend on June 13. Of course, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, that did not happen.
For most softball teams, missing state championship weekend isn’t out of the ordinary as it takes an extraordinary amount of talent to be among the final handful of teams still playing. The same cannot be said for Afton coach Cindy Bostelman.
Bostelman, who entered her 31st season at the helm this spring, has led the Crimson Knights to 14 state title game appearances over the course of her career. Afton claimed five championships out of those 14 trips to push its program total to seven, which ties Section XI’s Bay Shore for most in state history.
Afton’s state titles under the three-time New York State Sportswriters Coach of the Year and 12-time Daily Star Coach of the Year include 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002 and 2009. Clearly, Bostelman, the 1990s Coach of the Decade, knows a thing or two about coaching successful softball teams.
“Work hard. Whatever it is,” Bostelman said on her coaching philosophy. “At the end of the season, I always say, if you put everything into it, you did what you had to do.”
The Crimson Knights also went on an incredible 16-year run of Section IV titles, winning every year from 1995 to 2010.
“I think the bottom line came down to they believed,” Bostelman continued. “I didn’t have to tell them them anything. I didn’t expect to have any pitching queens, I was lucky to have a kid with five or six strikeouts. It was interesting, they said we were going to play on the last day and we were going to work really hard.”
Maintaining such a high level of success through entire decades does in fact come with its fair share of challenges. Near the top of that list would be attempting to instill a winning mindset into an ever-changing set of players.
Bostelman, who’s career record sits at 517-194, said that during Afton’s prime, players would arise as leaders almost naturally, allowing her teachings to resonate more than if she had to do all of the explaining all of the time.
“If you have that, it makes it easier to explain something, I can’t even begin to tell you,” Bostelman said.
Players like Andrea Noyes, Kris Kelly and most recently Jessie Winans exemplified that phenomenon as each were integral pieces during all of the Crimson Knights’ title-winning seasons.
However, section titles and state championships didn’t come right away for Bostelman. Rather, the Afton mainstay had to endure some tough seasons after taking over for the legendary Janet Conover in 1989.
Bostelman went 4-14 in her first go-around as the varsity coach and then followed it up with a winless second season in 1990 at 0-15. Eventually, the records started to tilt the other way as the Crimson Knights regained a winning culture in the mid-1990s.
Bostelman said her predecessor was one of the most influential mentors of her coaching career.
“I actually played for her when I was in school,” Bostelman said. “I am an Afton graduate. It was neat to play under her and then take over for her. She has built some unbelievable talented ladies. Just a tremendous role model to the young women there.”
The pair have each piled up an impressive list of accolades and in 2010, both were inducted into the Section IV Hall of Fame. With more than 600 wins between the two, it’s not hard to see why Afton’s softball program is the class of the state.
In April, Bostelman added another accomplishment to her resume as she was inducted to the New York State High School Softball Hall of Fame.
“The man that runs it, Perry Novak, is unbelievable, he is softball,” Bostelman said. “I’m pretty proud to have that one. It was a really great deal and I enjoyed getting that call from him that night.”
Having fulfilled seemingly every goal one coach would ever hope to achieve, it would appear as though Bostelman as nothing left to prove. But that’s not how Bostelman sees it.
“I love the challenge,” Bostelman said. “It’s sad when you graduate seniors, but its always neat coming back, shuffling around returners. I can make this switch, I can make that switch. It was kind of fun to keep meshing them together and see what we could do.”