Sunday, February 5, 2023

Diamond Girls are Forever

Diamond Girls shine as they support Ole Miss baseball
The Ole Miss Rebels baseball team is about to open up the 2014 regular-season with a road weekend series against Stetson University on Feb. 14.
Of course, much of the focus centers around the team playing on the field. However, there is a group of young ladies whose support at each game is invaluable to the baseball program and the Ole Miss Sports Marketing Department. They are the Ole Miss Diamond Girls.
Former Rebel pitcher Stephen Head, the 2003 SEC Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, and 2004 SEC Player of the Year, is now a volunteer assistant coach for Ole Miss. He speaks highly of the Diamond Girls and the contribution they make to the entire program.
“The Diamond Girls are the face of our Ole Miss Baseball program,” Head says.
After thinking about it for a second, Head added, “Actually, the Diamond Girls are more the face of the program than the players, themselves.”

Taylor West rushes back to the Rebel Dugout after doing her Diamond Girl duty! (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)
Taylor West rushes back to the Rebel Dugout after doing her Diamond Girl duty! (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)

It is hard to argue with Head’s assessment. When you enter the stadium, you are greeted by a Diamond Girl. When you need a baseball program, you purchase one from a Diamond Girl. When you find the promotional towel or t-shirt in your seat, you know a Diamond Girl has placed it there. And when you see Rebel player drop his bat on the way to first base, you see it is a Diamond Girl who races out to retrieve that bat.
“Without a doubt, Rebel fans make our program thrive,” Head says, “and the Diamond Girls truly interact more with the fans than the players do.  This makes them a critical part of our team.”
Taylor West was a four-year member of the Diamond girls from 2008-2011 and captain of the group in 2010 and 2011. Currently an auditor for KPMG in Birmingham, she fondly recalls her days as a Diamond Girl and what inspired her to join the group.
Taylor West and her father Steve, enjoying a little father and daughter time at an Ole Miss Baseball game. (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)
Taylor West and her father Steve, enjoying a little father and daughter time at an Ole Miss Baseball game. (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)

“I remember growing up and going to regionals hosted by Ole Miss, specifically the series against Texas,” West said. “There was something electrifying about the atmosphere, and I knew then that I was interested in being a part of the Diamond Girls.”
Whitney Hodge was a Diamond Girl for three years from 2009-2011, serving as a captain in 2011. She echoed West’s sentiments about wanting to be a Diamond Girl.
“I grew up 20 miles south of Oxford, so I went to a good number baseball games before I attended Ole Miss,” she said. “I had always seen the Diamond Girls at the games, and when I saw the ad in the Daily Mississippian I immediately knew I wanted to try out!”
Katherine Barkett-Byrd was a four-year Diamond Girl from 2006-2010 and captain in 2009 and 2010.  Her background drew her to the squad.
“My dad was a baseball coach at St. Andrew’s in Jackson for 20 years and also owned a sporting goods store,” she said, “so I definitely had a long-standing passion for baseball.”  When she saw a poster in her dorm announcing Diamond Girl tryouts, she knew she had to attend.
So exactly how does one become a Diamond Girl? The process has changed, somewhat, over the years.
(L to R) Taylor West and Katherine Barkett-Byrd, Diamond Girl Captains (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)
(L to R) Taylor West and Katherine Barkett-Byrd, Diamond Girl Captains (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)

When Barkett-Byrd was a freshman, the application process consisted of an interview with one of the assistant baseball coaches at Ole Miss and the director of sports marketing.
“They lined us up six at a time and asked us questions about our background, as well as about baseball,” she said.
“Not long after I became a Diamond Girl, we added a quiz about baseball as part of the process,” Barkett-Byrd said. “We wanted to make sure the girls knew as much about Ole Miss baseball as possible.”
It was during this time that West and Hodge applied. West explains she submitted a resume and filled out an application at an interest meeting.
“Then, at the meeting we took a quiz over baseball rules and specific questions about Ole Miss baseball,” she said. Those girls with the top scores were asked back for interviews.  When West was selected, she competed with approximately 250 girls for one of 45-50 total spots.
The selection process no longer involves a quiz, but the competition is just as intense.
“This past year we had 120 girls vying for 20 open spots,” Head explained. The current roster of Diamond Girls numbers 45 and is divided into three squads of 15. The squads rotate games, with each working one game of a three-game series.
When a squad is assigned a game to work, the captain of the group coordinates the girls and creates the schedule for that day’s game.
“There is a 3-inning rotation that involves selling programs, working promotions for Ole Miss marketing, and, of course, the on-field responsibilities of home and visitor bats and home and visitor foul lines,” West explained.
In addition to their duties as bat girls, the Diamond Girls help in other ways, such as passing out Ole Miss baseball camp fliers and distributing marketing and promotional items.
“On Mike Mayers day at the park, for example, the Diamond Girls passed out over 8,000 white masks as part of the day’s promotions,” Head said.
A Diamond Girl places promotional Rally Towels on the stadium seats before a Thursday night game in Oxford. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Head.)
A Diamond Girl places promotional Rally Towels on the stadium seats before a Thursday night game in Oxford. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Head.)

Their days as Diamond Girls prompt many fond memories for West, Hodge and Barkett-Byrd.
West quickly answered when asked what her most memorable moment was at Swayze.
“It was game one of the super regional against Virginia,” she said. “I was working the visitor bats for Virginia.  Most of the time I would hold back cheering for Ole Miss out of respect for the other team.  Not this time.  The Virginia Head Coach (Brian O’Connor) was standing right by where the Diamond Girls sit.  As our offensive momentum got rolling, I was basically jumping on his back in excitement when our guys were scoring to win game one. I still feel kind of bad about that.”
Hodge reminisced about the 2010 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.
“I loved being there because it was my first time at Hoover. Representing Ole Miss at such a big tournament was special,” she said. “After we lost the series to Auburn at home that season, it was amazing to beat them in the SEC tournament to advance to the semifinals. I’ll never forget being there.”
Diamond Girls on a Rebel Road Trip to the 2010 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. (From L-R) Casey McManus, Taylor West, Whitney Hodge, Alex Gibert (Photo courtesy of Whitney Hodge.)
Diamond Girls on a Rebel Road Trip to the 2010 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama. (From L-R) Casey McManus, Taylor West, Whitney Hodge, Alex Gibert (Photo courtesy of Whitney Hodge.)

Barkett-Byrd, like the other former Diamond Girls, had a hard time narrowing it down to just one most memorable moment.
“For me, it was always so special to be able to work the Home bats because we sat with the team and had a front-row seat to all the action,” she said. “We got to hear Coach Bianco and really get into the emotion of the game.”
Singing the National Anthem at Swayze was another special memory for Barkett-Byrd, a former Miss University.
“It was incredible to sing the National Anthem at a home game in my Diamond Girl uniform. That was truly a highlight,” she said.
Though they give so much to the baseball program at Ole Miss, the Diamond Girls believe they receive plenty in return.
“The best part of being a Diamond Girl is being lucky enough to do it for Ole Miss,” Hodge said.
“Standing in that stadium on game day is indescribable, and actually being on the field soaking up the spirit, emotion and intensity of one of the best game day atmospheres is amazing.”
West reiterated how much the group meant to her.
“I loved the opportunity to be a part of the Diamond Girls while at Ole Miss. It was a way to meet all kinds of great girls and I am very thankful for the friendships I made.”
Taylor West with close family friend and former Rebel Matt Tracy, now playing in the New York Yankees minor league system (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)
Taylor West with close family friend and former Rebel Matt Tracy, now playing in the New York Yankees minor league system (Photo courtesy of Becky West.)

Barkett-Byrd echoed the sentiments of her fellow captains.
“After my first two years in the Diamond Girls, I had more passion for the game and the squad than ever,” she said. “I applied to be a captain so I could take on a leadership role in the organization. Though I was already in a sorority, Diamond Girls actually became my sorority because I spent so much time with them,” she said.
Given Barkett-Byrd’s baseball background and her love of the game, it is not surprising she attended Ole Miss games when she was not even scheduled to work.
“I’d go to the games on my off-days and sit in the student section,” she said. Like the other Diamond Girls, she traveled to away games whenever possible.
“I recall going to Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Vandy, and almost all the games in Jackson,” she said.
All three former Diamond Girls emphasized the strong commitment the group makes to the program. “We are at every game, greeting people, selling programs, throwing t-shirts, etc.,” Barkett-Byrd noted. “One time I recall working a game in the snow. It was extremely cold, but we were still out there doing our jobs.”
Taylor West carries the bats off the field.
Taylor West carries the bats off the field.

As one may imagine, these former Diamond Girls still enthusiastically support Rebel baseball.
Whitney Hodge is pursuing a Master’s in Occupational Therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. However, she has attended baseball games every season since graduation.
“I don’t get to as many games as I’d like, but I definitely make it a point to attend a series when I’m home for a weekend,” she said.
Katherine Barkett-Byrd is a staffing supervisor at a staffing agency in Jackson. She is married to an avid State fan, but still ardently follows Ole Miss baseball.
And it comes as no surprise that Taylor West, like Hodge and Barkett-Byrd, still attends Ole Miss baseball games when she has the opportunity.
“Swayze Field is my favorite place to be in Oxford,” she said.
All three of these former Diamond Girls cherish the days they spent supporting Rebels baseball.
So the next time you’re at Swayze, be sure and thank a Diamond Girl for being a fantastic ambassador for Ole Miss baseball and the University of Mississippi. As evidenced by West, Hodge and Barkett-Byrd, Diamonds truly are forever. 
— Evelyn Van Pelt
Evelyn is a HottyToddy.com sports writer. She studied English at Texas A&M University, but fell in love with Ole Miss and Oxford when her daughter attended Ole Miss on a volleyball scholarship.  Her daughter received three degrees from Ole Miss, including her Pharm D. in 2012. Evelyn has been a proud supporter of Ole Miss for over a decade and covers Rebels football for gridirongirl.org. Follow her on Twitter at @OleMissEvie and e-mail her at OleMissEvie@gmail.com
 
 

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