1985. It's the year that Ndidi Opia Massay arrived on the Northwestern campus, a bright-eyed freshman determined to lead the Northwestern softball team to a national championship. It's the year that Joe Girardi would become an All-American and prepare to wrap up his career as a Northwestern baseball player, a senior catcher destined for more than just playing in the major leagues.
It's also the year the two would meet.
Massay was recruited to Northwestern by head softball coach Sharon Drysdale and would ultimately start in left field her freshman year. She went on to win two Big Ten titles and acquire three all-conference selections throughout her career, as well as earn her degree from the Medill School of Journalism. Before all of the accolades, however, she was just the new kid on campus. A freshman learning the ropes who -- on a wintery day in 1985 -- happened to stumble upon a Northwestern baseball catchers' workout that Girardi was taking part in.
Determined, the freshman -- a catcher herself -- marched right up to the senior with her chin jutted out and her eyes brazen.
"I want in," she declared.
From that point forward, Massay took extra catching reps with Girardi whenever she could. Their time together was an invaluable part of her freshman year and would later prove to be one of the many occasions in which Massay left no stone unturned in her pursuit of greatness. She has paved the way for young women like myself, and is just one of many Northwestern softball players who have set the standard for generations to come.
The first time Massay told me this story was this past summer when I had the opportunity to work for her and fellow Northwestern softball alum Garland Cooper at ESPN RISE. Not only did I walk away from that job with first-hand experience and invaluable knowledge of the sports journalism industry, but I also came back with a summer's worth of stories that spanned 30 years of Northwestern softball. We'd reminisce about Massay's tenure under Coach Drysdale and Cooper's memories of the 2006 and 2007 Women's College World Series. Though we were from three completely different generations of Northwestern softball, the relationships that summer proved to be a perfect picture of the ways in which the blood, sweat and tears that go along with wearing that purple uniform transcend time.
The legacy of Northwestern softball extends beyond the white lines that so many of us have played between. Even as I was beginning to write this blog at the DeMarini Invitational (Fullerton, Calif.), I received an encouraging email from Northwestern alum Christine Brennan, an award-winning USA Today columnist who covered Northwestern Softball for the Daily Northwestern in the spring of 1978. Brennan was as much a part of that '78 team as the women wearing the uniform, and that simple fact has allowed me the incredible opportunity to establish a relationship with one of the most widely-read and respected female sports columnists in the United States. I met Brennan at a networking event for female student-athletes at Northwestern last year, and we've been in touch ever since.
Wearing a Northwestern uniform is so much more than your four years in Evanston. It's about a lifetime and a network of women who have worn the color purple.
It's former Northwestern All-American and 2010 USA National Team member Eileen Canney returning to campus while on a week-long break from playing professionally in Japan to pitch batting practice to this year's team. It's former Wildcats Tammy Williams and Nicole Pauly -- now members of the Chicago Bandits and Akron Racers, respectively, of National Pro Fastpitch -- visiting our practice facility every Monday night for the hitting and pitching clinics our team puts on in the community. It's Cooper, a former Northwestern All-American and two-time Women's College World Series participant, writing a detailed explanation at the request of current player Emily Allard describing how she and her teammates got to Oklahoma City. It's Allard reading that letter to the entire team crammed into a little hotel room before our first game this year. And it's us realizing in that moment that our past has spoken of greatness; now it's time to speak it ourselves.
[Ed note from
Scharkey: Be sure to read the Big Ten's feature story on Ndidi Massay!]