ODESSA — For the better part of 20 years, physical fitness has been an essential component to the Stager family dynamic.
Ashley and Courtney Stager played college softball at Florida State after lighting up Pasco County on the prep level. Their younger brother, Derick,plays baseball. And their dad, Tom Stager, was a third baseman in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He also has coached softball and coaches baseball.
The fact the family branched out, opening a training facility in June – incorporating their love of fitness and swinging bats at small balls – shouldn’t be a surprise.
Next Level Training, a 6,500-square foot fitness center at 2530 Merchant Ave. in Odessa, allows the family to pass on the tools they’ve learned to help other’s attain a level of success.
“It’s kind of a dream to be able to work with your family and daughters,” said Tom Stager, 50, who spent 25 years as an Arby’s executive before leaving the company. “I’d love to get my wife in here but she’s not quite ready. To work with my family has been good. It’s just a dream.”
This wasn’t something the group lingered over. A discussion took place on May 11 and on that day it was decided to start the training center. On June 1, that conversation turned into reality when the doors opened for business.
“I love playing a role in people’s lives,” Courtney Stager, 23, said. “That’s why we do it all together. We’re an amazing team — me and my sister and my dad. We love being together and working together.”
The group didn’t use any fancy advertising methods. They contacted friends and family on Facebook and used the old fashioned word-of-mouth way of doing things.
Each of the camps offered at the facility has been fully booked and it’s rare when any of the Stagers, who are each certified personal trainers, aren’t busy.
In addition to fostering the physical and mental aspect of athletics, the Stagers have chosen to play a role in a player’s life off the field.
The Stager Sisters Foundation gave out its third scholarship to former Mitchell High School outfielder Lydia Kinney.
“To know (the Stagers) are helping us, helping give back to the community, it’s great,” said Kinney, who applied for this year’s scholarship before it was announced by the foundation.
Kinney is headed to Stetson University in DeLand and will continue her softball career.
Michelle Kinney, Lydia’s mother, and Shawna Kinney, Lydia’s older sister, were there to celebrate the moment.
“It’s amazing because she’s just worked so hard her whole life with softball and academics,” Michelle Kinney said. “To see her get this proves she accomplished what she set out to accomplish. She sets her goals really, really high and she probably is her own worst critic. But she got where she wanted to be, so we’re just really proud of her.”
Those selected to receive the scholarship must first be a softball player at Mitchell, secondly, meet an above average grade point average and collect a minimum of 40 volunteer hours. Finally, the player must be attending college after high school. Playing college softball is not a requirement.
“It’s all about giving back,” Ashley Stager, 24, said. “Pasco County, it’s not that popular of a county and we felt like a lot of the girls and a lot of the talent that comes out of here is really good. We just thought we could start slow and give back to the girls who came out of the same high school as we did.”
Ashley, who began playing softball at 5, was the only softball player in FSU history to start each of her four years. Courtney, who played one season at Florida State, was named the team’s Rookie of the Year as a freshman. She began her softball career at 3.
Ashley, who graduated from Mitchell in 2007, and Courtney, a 2008 Mitchell grad, want their scholarship efforts to spread beyond their alma mater. Both have hopes that scholarships will be given to softball players at other Pasco County high schools in the future.
For Ashley, starting a training facility fell in line with her degree in exercise science. Courtney, her passion was cosmetology, which grew during her time in New Jersey with her fiancé Kenny Ingram, a former NFL and CFL linebacker. She was nearing enrollment in a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school when the family decided on the training facility.
She couldn’t say no.
“It’s reaching out to the community and showing that we’re still here, we’re not going anywhere,” Courtney Stager said. “Even though we’ve graduated high school, college, we’re done, we still want to help these girls out and give them that motivation to become better and better every day.
“You work hard in school, you work hard on the field, you work hard at home. Those are the girls you are going to get, just like Lydia. She’s a true dedicator.”