Recently in Schark Bytes (Softball) Category
With the Northwestern
Softball alumni game just a day away, Kristin (Scharkey) Jensen looks back on
her four years in Kate Drohan's program in the final installment of Schark
I remember the first time I met Kate and Caryl Drohan.
I was going through the post-game high-fives with Tennessee this weekend in
Palm Springs, I noticed a familiar face perched on the grass hill down the
right field line. She was all decked out in her USSSA Pride gear, but I'd know
her silhouette anywhere. It wasn't too long ago that I stepped on campus as a
freshman 3,000 miles away from home, and Lauren Lappin was our volunteer
Editor's Note: Northwestern women's swimmers Jackie Powell and Megan Goss spearheaded the inaugural "Breaststroke4BreastCancer" relay to raise funds for local cancer research. In an incredible display of support and organizational prowess, the first-time event filled 17 lanes at NU's Norris Aquatics Center with more than 150 swimmers who combined to tally 70,000 yards (or 39 miles) of swimming in just one hour. NU's Beta Fraternity won a trophy with the most total yards: 5,350. In addition, special guest Joan Zielinski, a Northwestern professor and invitee of Wildcats' junior swimmer Becca Soderholm, shared her experience with breast cancer with the crowd during a fun, education and powerful evening. Read on for Kristin Scharkey's perspective on how much the event meant to her team and one softball Wildcat in particular.
October 24, dozens of Northwestern student-athletes swam in Northwestern Women's
Swimming and Diving's fundraiser "Breaststroke4BreastCancer." Our own team swam
over 4,000 yards in one hour, raising money for breast cancer research and
contributing to the university's final total in which the swimming program more
than doubled their target goal.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kristin currently is on a two-month journey in a small village in Rwanda called Musanze where she is teaching English at a non-profit organization that combats poverty through housing and education. While there, Kristin is maintaining a separate blog from her regular Schark Bytes column called Rhythms of Rwanda.
Below is an excerpt from an entry today entitled "When Teacher Becomes Student." Be sure to check her blog regularly to follow her inspiration, adventures and photos in what is easily one of the most interesting summer stints for any NCAA student-athlete.
"Today, we are going to learn pronouns," I announce to the students before me.
It's my first time teaching at the MOC, a special session about
writing. I've got to admit, I'm a little nervous, but I go with what I
know and relay all of the tips that I've picked up as a writer
over the last few years. After forty-five minutes of tools to make our
writing smoother- namely transitional words and pronouns- we break for
lunch and I breathe a sigh of relief that I didn't freeze up and forget
When lunch ends, I grab a notebook and pen and begin the 15-minute
trek up the road through Musanze for a little learning of my own. Tucked
away in a small row of buildings off the main road in Musanze is a
10×10 room filled with vibrant paintings and intricate sculptures. A
zebra with brilliant black and white stripes and an oversized portrait
of Paul Kagame in front of the Rwandan flag are just two of a dozen
pieces that cover the walls, while sand-colored sculptures that swirl
upward from the floor are all over the ground. The room is called
'Volcanoes Arts' and serves as a studio and shop for local artists Jean
Pierre (John Peter) Masambuko and Jean d'amour (John of Love) Ntihemuka.
It also serves as my own personal Kinyarwanda training center.
The first time I met Masambuko and Ntihemuka was by chance on a morning
walk down the road. When Masambuko and I ran into each other and
realized we shared a mutual enthusiasm for learning the other's culture,
we bonded instantly. His English is above average and my Kinyarwanda is
sub-par; it's a match made in heaven.
Continue reading at Kristin's Rhythms of Rwanda blog!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Northwestern softball rising senior Kristin
Scharkey submitted this piece as her final project in a spring quarter Medill
School of Journalism course. We publish it here on her independent NUsports.com
blog, Schark Bytes, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX.
Cassell is dressed in all black, accentuating the paleness of legs that have
been hidden under shin guards for most of her life. She works diligently on the
Northwestern University turf field with two other goalkeepers on the Wildcats'
women's soccer team; juggling and taking rep after rep of shots on goal. The
blonde-haired freshman started playing soccer when she was four-years-old, and
she hasn't stopped since.
on a scholarship here, and the fact that I can play the sport I love and pay
for my college [tuition] that way is really lucky," Cassell says.
I catch this bit of Cassell's practice before
heading over to my own on the neighboring field. Our two teams often practice
side-by-side on our respective fields like this in the spring, and I can't help
but wonder if the opportunity we have is really luck like Cassell says.
past weekend on June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the
legislation that paved the way for thousands of female athletes to have the
opportunity to play college sports. Today more than 190,000 female athletes
compete at the Division I level, according to data released by the NCAA in
2011. At the birth of Title IX, only one in 25 girls played sports. Now, it is
one in three. Perhaps it has not been luck but the work of generations of women
who have fought for equality in collegiate athletics.
Editor's Note: The original
version of this blog was submitted for publication in Softball Magazine. It is reprinted here today in honor of
Northwestern's Senior Weekend, which begins at 2 p.m. CT Friday, May 11, 2012, against Illinois at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. The three member senior class will be honored prior to Saturday's 1 p.m. CT series finale.
soon as Adrienne Monka was old enough to attend preschool, her mother excitedly
dressed her up with a bow in her hair and sent her off.
the end of the day, when she arrived to pick her daughter up, Elba Monka found
that her preciously placed bow was gone from Adrienne's head and instead, lay
in her cubby. When the preschooler explained that it had simply fallen off, her
mother thought nothing of it and sent her back the next day with the bow firmly
fastened atop her head. Come pick-up time, however, it was again found lying
lonely in the cubby.
Editor's Note: Northwestern
will honor Katie Crandol prior to its noon CT first pitch Sunday, April 29,
when it takes on Ohio State in a Big Ten doubleheader at Sharon J. Drysdale
first time I met Katie Crandol, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon after our
annual open practice. A 16-year-old cancer survivor and aspiring college
softball player, Katie and her family had become the newest additions to our
team through the Friends of Jaclyn program. As we shared a meal and exchanged
stories about our season and their journey, it was apparent to each and every
one of us that we were blessed with the opportunity to get know to someone with
such a unique perspective on not only softball but also life itself.
you know Michelle Batts, you know that she's one of the most outgoing,
charismatic people you'll ever meet. She's the life of the party and thrives in
social situations; and on the field, her bat talks just as loudly as her
I could've somehow frozen that moment in between fly balls, I would've. That
moment when I stood in centerfield and gazed around at the rest of my teammates
scattered throughout the field in front of me. That moment when I could turn my
head and see smiling fans to my right and smiling fans to my left, dozens
decked out in purple and wearing the same logo across their chest as was across
Last weekend, the B1G Mobile Tour came to Northwestern to showcase the new Stagg-Paterno Big Ten Championship Trophy and help spread the word about the conference's new Legends and Leaders division names. Kristin Scharkey served as our blogger for the Tour, finishing her experience with a final blog entry about what Honoring Legends, Building Leaders means to Northwestern student-athletes
. Read the entire entry and watch a video on the B1G Mobile Tour blog
featuring many of NU's most successful student-athletes as they share what competing in the B1G Conference means to them.
'Cats fans! This week I got to sit down with Assistant Director of Sports
Jorgensen, the newest addition to our sports
performance team and Northwestern Softball's personal coach! We've
already had three great weeks of work with Tyler and are looking forward to
what we will accomplish with him over the next year!
years ago, I was a freshman in the dorms and field hockey sensation Chelsea
Armstrong was an Australian transfer student who just happened to live next
door. Her roommate was my best friend and teammate so I frequented their room
often, many times only catching little bits of conversation with Chelsea before
she ran off to one of her legendary late-night study sessions in the library.
Her accent garnered a slew of hall-wide fans; a number that vastly increased
when everyone figured out just how tremendous she was on the field. It became
normal for floor mates to cover Chelsea's door in newspaper clippings that
heralded her performances.
golfer Eric Chun knows what it's like to have success at the Asian Amateur Golf
November 2009, Chun was the runner-up at the tournament's inauguration, which
earned him the right to qualify for the 2010 British Open at the International
Final Qualifying Stage. There, the senior shot rounds of 67-71 and sank a
6-foot birdie putt on the final hole to land a spot in his first Major
Championship at legendary St. Andrews.
have a new group of National Pro Fastpitch Champions.
former Wildcats Robin Thompson and Tammy Williams are among the heralded.
Sunday, Aug. 21, the Chicago Bandits beat the USSSA Florida Pride 10-3 in the
second game of a best-of-three series to win their second postseason title in
franchise history. Williams went 1-for-4 at the plate and scored a run, while
Thompson also scored after being inserted into the game to pinch run. Former
Northwestern softball coach Lauren Lappin also played second base in the game
for the Pride squad.
do words get their meaning? How are they derived?
the word 'strong,' for example. First used by Jakob Grimm in 1841, the word
comes from the Germanic base strangaz, meaning "physically powerful," "powerful in
effect" and "severe." Over time,
it has been redefined by people and events; shaped and molded into various
'strong' in the sense of having the ability to perform physically demanding
tasks and 'strength' defined by skills and qualities that enable success.
There's strong impressions, strong currents, strong cups of coffee, etc etc.
then there's 'PersaStrong.'
1. To possess strength,
determination and/or talent like that of Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.
(i.e. "There's strong, then there's PersaStrong.")
2. To establish yourself as
an unquestionable leader and field general, capitalizing on your innate ability
to escape the pocket and turn almost certain losses into big gains.
3. To expect the same
excellence from your teammates as you do from yourself (i.e. watching countless
hours of film with as many teammates as you can bring along), attempting to not
only elevate your own game but take the entire football program to another
4. To not be satisfied with
anything less than perfection and attend as many extra workouts as possible.
5. To go 19-for-21 with three
touchdowns in the 2010 season opener against Vanderbilt, when few believed
you'd be able to fill Mike Kafka's shoes.
6. To excel on and off the
field at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, earning 2010
All-Big Ten first team honors on top of Big Ten Distinguished Scholar honors
and two consecutive Academic All-Big Ten honors.
7. To be the first player in
Northwestern football history to be named to the program's 10-man Leadership
Council four times, a group of players elected by teammates to be liaisons and
leaders in program development.
8. To compile stats that
would compare favorably to past Heisman Trophy Winners. (i.e. If the passing
yards Dan Persa accumulated in 2010 -- prior to his season-ending injury --
were projected over a full season, he would have thrown for 3,355 yards. The
last nine Heisman-winning quarterbacks together have averaged 3,354 yards.)
9. To stand on the brink of
college football immortality as a preseason favorite to win college football's
most prestigious individual award.
there's more to the definition than what might be tangibly found in a
dictionary; more than the Big Ten record-breaking 73.5 percent completion rate
and the fact that he's has already been declared a candidate for this year's
Walter Camp Award, Manning Award, Davey O'Brien Award and Capital One Academic
the willpower I see in Dan Persa's eyes during rehab as he works diligently to
complete exercises, carrying the weight of a team that depends on him.
the resolve I notice in his stature from my place in right field bleachers at
Wrigley Field, as he watches our team battle Illinois in the chilling
temperatures of November -- braving the cold on the sidelines -- not even a
week out of surgery.
the elation that comes when he evades would-be sackers and glides into the end
zone; the excitement that follows as he marches the team down the field with
passes that fly straight into the hands of Jeremy Ebert and Demetrius Fields.
Ryan Field busting at the seams, packed in like sardines, simply because no one
wants to miss the magic he has for us next.
Persa has the talent and opportunity to send shockwaves throughout college
football this year reminiscent of those felt after the '95 season following
Northwestern's storybook run to the Rose Bowl. There has been a lot of
speculation, a lot of questions and concern about his health, but Persa has
created his own brand of strength that is rooted in the intangibles described
above; determination, willpower, resolve.
asked about the greatest lesson he's learned, Persa had just two words, "Never
quit." In regards to the 2011 season, I have five...
the Heisman campaign begin.
was it. The interview I'd been dreading to facilitate for weeks now.
trudge up the stairs with a disheartened defiance, crossing the hallway to
security code into the keypad of the locker room door. My eyes glisten with tears
as I step inside the locker room, dozens of memories from the past two years flashing
across my memory and dancing in front of my face as I flip on the light switch.
incoming text tells me they'll be arriving shortly. I had told them to meet me here
-- our team's own private sanctuary of laughs, sweat, and tears-- the place where
it all begins. I pass each of their lockers as I circle the room; #7... #8... #10... #18...
#23. I can still remember that windy April day in 2008 when I met the five of them
in this very room for the first time on my unofficial recruiting visit. They
through that locker room door, joking loudly about all sorts of nonsense and laughing
the full-bellied kind of laughs that result from deep friendships. Noticing me
in the corner, they had come straight over and treated me like an old friend, convincing
me right then that there was no other college softball team I'd rather play
for than theirs.
thoughts are interrupted as I hear the keypad click again. The door opens and
the five of them enter in much of the same way as they did three years ago, exuberant
and animated. As they gather around me -- the déjà vu uncanny -- I can't help
but realize in the pit of my stomach that it has come time to say good-bye.
start at the beginning," I say, "Tell me about your freshman year. What was your
first impression of each other?"
Quinn smiles as Michelle Batts looks to Robin Thompson with a sly grin. "Wait, this
is a group interview?" Jordan Wheeler exclaims as Jessica Smith giggles uncontrollably.
antics continue for a few more seconds. Typical for these five. Always joking, always
laughing, always the life of the party. And yet at the same time, always willing
to get down to business when necessary. I secretly begin to hope they realize this
is that time, just as Wheeler takes the lead.
all had a lot in common," she reminisces. "Our backgrounds -- even though they were
super different -- [were similar in] the way our brains worked and the way that
we cared about each other immediately. There was a lot of compassion right off the
bat; everybody was looking out for each other right off the bat even though we
only known each other for a couple weeks."
group came to Northwestern from various parts of the country: Smith and Wheeler
from southern California, Batts and Quinn from the Chicagoland area, and Thompson
from Detroit, Mich. All standouts in their respective high school softball programs,
they each had been drawn to the family atmosphere embedded into
was an environment where I felt welcome, and I loved everything about it," says Thompson
as the others nod. "I felt like I could be me here. I felt like I wouldn't miss my
family as much because there was that type of environment here. And it proved to
five faces light up when I ask them what they'll remember most about their four years
in that purple uniform.
balloon fights," says Batts, sending chuckles throughout the room.
the Big Ten Championship," asserts Thompson, inciting an electric commotion
throughout the room as the other four are quick to agree.
was amazing knowing that all five of us were a part of that. Nobody was on the bench
-- we were all in there," says Thompson.
were all factors in that championship," agrees Batts.
can sense that the 2008 win over Michigan State that clinched the regular-season
Big Ten title is still as real to them in this moment as it was two years ago.
They're all talking at the same time -- lost in their own memories of that day
-- each trying to express the sheer enormity of what they felt during that
was that good kind of pressure that's the reason you play sports," recalls Wheeler.
"It was that fire in your belly that made you so nervous, but made you ready
moment quiets down, and I move forward with another question, one that I'm most
curious to know and hear.
what have you learned from each other?" I ask. "What have these four other people
pause -- contemplative -- but only for a moment.
learned to be a free spirit," says Thompson. "I'm a laid back type of person in general
and I'm really to myself, but I've accepted something else and I love it."
learned how to work through the hardest times and still have friends at the end,"
says Batts, the others nodding in agreement, their eyes locked in a bond of friendship
that has stood the test of time.
learned how to appreciate everybody's unique differences in a way that's more than
just appreciating them but learning how to love them for it," affirms Wheeler
chimes in with: 'The level of confidence individually in each of them and the different
ways that it is presented to create this outward personality of everyone is inspiring,"
think I came in here naturally a very closed-off person, and I think that I've learned
how to open up and be able to trust," ends Smith.
they each open up about the lessons they've taken from each other, I take a moment
to sit back and gaze at the five faces in the circle before me, wondering if they'll
ever know the impact they've not only had on each other, but on the rest of us as
well. All five are so incredibly unique, yet are the same in the thousands of
left their marks all over this program, this team and myself.
my right sits Kelly Quinn, without a doubt one of the most intelligent women I've come
across. I cannot wait to see where life takes K-Q, whether it be engineering the
next world-changing substance or baking more of her already famous pastries. Defined
by dedication and consistency, Quinnie has represented Northwestern Softball
both on and off the field with dignity and reliability.
her right is Jessica Smith. Our leader in the circle and one of the most determined women
I know, Boots is easily one of the hardest working members of our team and leaves
no doubt that she will control her own destiny. I will be forever grateful for
the accountability we shared; that I would do anything for her as my pitcher
and vice versa, both of us relying on a belief we had in each other that I
from way out in centerfield.
to her is Robin Thompson, the fiercest competitor I've ever played the game
and our team's anchor at third base for the past four years. She's a natural-born
leader with a quiet confidence and a compassion for others, the combination of
which is extraordinary. Which, to be completely honest, is the only word that
come close to justly describing RT. She has been and always will be one of my role
models, my 'other half' and a woman I hold in the highest esteem.
is Michelle Batts, one of my best friends and the glue to this 2011 team. An offensive
threat whenever she steps in the box, Shelly creates an electric buzz throughout
stadiums like nothing I've felt before; fans know as well as we do what one
swing of her bat can mean. The life of the party, Michelle has the biggest
heart of anyone I know and is as loyal as they come. She is the epitome of
selfless, the definition of kindness. When I think of my top 10 moments of
college thus far, Michelle has been the cause or been a part of every one of
finally, to my left is Jordan Wheeler. Truly the best defensive player I've
with, I literally cannot imagine a team without her on it, an outfield where she
doesn't exist. When I think about that last inning at Penn State -- the last
will ever be able to look to left field and find her next to me -- it feels as
is chopping my right arm off. Jo is a woman of confidence that has taught me
to go after what I desire with fearless determination, a life-lover who has
what it means to live with no regrets.
jerked back into reality to ask them one final question -- what they'll miss
each other. The room gets quiet and Wheeler delivers an answer that strikes a chord
for the entire group.
think I'm going to realize it when I'm gone, just how much I took happiness for granted,
and how it easy it always was to get it from these four," she says.
answer makes me realize just how grateful I am for the two years I had the opportunity
to have with these five women. The happiness that Wheeler treasures is
something that they've inadvertently spread to everyone in this program, and
the thought of not having them here next year is surreal. In fact, it's almost unfathomable.
the routine I've known for two years will be forever changed as soon I set foot
on campus next year. Their laughter won't be there upon entering the locker room,
and I won't be able to find them as I look down the dugout. I don't want to think
about what life will be like without a Michelle Batts' embrace to run to or a pep
talk from Robin Thompson to get me through the day. What is it going to feel like
when I can't lock eyes with Jordan Wheeler from across the field to know that everything's
going to be OK, or when I can't look to Jessica Smith's and Kelly Quinn's quiet
determination to remind me to press on?
even as much as it hurts to lose them, as much as their departure leaves a gaping
hole, I know we'll be fine -- I'll be fine -- because of everything they're
with. They've taught each and every one of us what it means to be determined and
confident, they've shown us all how to chase after your dreams with uninhibited
to the five women who have molded and shaped my life for the past two years, here's
to your legacy, to everything you've left behind. Here's to the game-winning grand
slams, the inning-ending diving catches, the strikeout pitches that made us all pump
our fists. Here's to your work ethic that has inspired all of us every day, and
families that have welcomed so many of us in with arms of love when our own couldn't
to the Friday night hang-outs at the house, the Saturday afternoon victories and
the Sunday night dinners. Here's to your light-hearted laughter -- a staple that
has brought smiles to countless numbers of faces -- and to the definition of Northwestern
Softball that you've helped shape along the way. I can't wait to see where
life takes you in these next few years, or rather, where you will take life.
but surely, I get up from my spot on the floor of the locker room and gather my
things. As they begin to leave one-by-one, I realize that their Northwestern Softball
experience will come full circle in a few months, when they'll be scattered across
the nation like they once were before their time here began.
as I turn off the lights and walk down the stairs, it dawns on me that perhaps it
would be inaccurate to say their journey has come full circle. The impact they've had
on this program is far too great to say it ends here. Their circle is more of a spiral,
continuing to wind in and out of all the lives they've touched here in Evanston
extending towards all of the possibilities they've made us believe are
embedded themselves in every nook and cranny of this program, spiraling through
their four years here and many to come.
thank you, seniors, for everything you've given to this program, for everything you've
given to me. Each of you have been an inspiration both on and off the field, reminding
us every day of the reasons why we came to Northwestern, of why we play
this game. You've led this team with grace, poise and confidence; teaching me
and preparing me every day for this moment, when it has become my turn to step
up and be the leader you have been to me.
Pat Fitzgerald is
staying at Northwestern.
Among rumors of job
offers elsewhere, the head football coach announced Tuesday that a newly agreed
upon contract extension will keep him here for not one, not two, but 10 years.
This is more than
us just keeping the man who has led Northwestern to three-consecutive bowl
games for the first time in team history. It's more than the fact Fitzgerald is
a two-time Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Award winner, a 2008 College
Football Hall of Fame inductee and, most recently, the inaugural recipient of
the 1WORLD Sports Coach of the Year award.
Pat Fitzgerald has
become much more than just the head football coach.
He is the heartbeat
of this university.
The man has
established himself as the face of Northwestern sports, defining what it means
to truly bleed purple, and legions of fans have followed behind him. Everywhere
you go on campus -- even in the offseason -- you'll find students wearing "Fitz
is my Facebook friend" t-shirts. Walk through any dorm and you'll find popsicle
sticks with his face taped onto them; wall art in spring, football game props
in the fall. His posts on Twitter are read religiously by athletes, fans and
alumni alike, and the videos he uploads onto his Facebook are 'liked' by the
He and his players
have reached out to Evanston and the surrounding communities in dozens of ways.
Always a proponent of the university's academic excellence, his players
achieved their highest GPA in team history last quarter with a 3.02 mark. And
most recently, he was a judge at the first ever Student-Athlete Talent Show. It's
the little things he does that have allowed the students of this university to
claim him as their own. And now, it's going to stay that way until 2020.
As a student here,
I've witnessed the Fitz frenzy that has taken over the school. As an athlete, I've
experienced his charisma first-hand. To see Fitz in and around the stadium
facilities -- always greeting us with a warm hello -- and to constantly find
him cheering loudly at our games down the left field line has been a priceless
part of my experience here at Northwestern. Even finding his online
congratulations over Facebook and Twitter to fellow Northwestern teams is a
small gesture that has spoken volumes.
His players rave
about his likeability and charm. Their respect for him is through the roof, and
they sing praises of his annual Thanksgiving invites into his home.
To the outside
world, Pat Fitzgerald is the coach who has led Northwestern to three-consecutive
bowl games, the man who, earlier this year, was named a finalist for the
inaugural Joseph V. Paterno Coach of the Year Award.
But to the students
of Northwestern, he is ours.
He's the common
link between the saxophonist and the basketball player, the engineer and the
He's the figure we
search for on the Ryan Field sidelines from the stands, the voice we would
recognize from a mile away.
He's the coach we've
rallied around come fall, and the family man we've come to know and love in
And he's here to
University's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) hosted the school's
first ever Student-Athlete Talent Show Tuesday night, May 3, showcasing
off-the-field talents of athletes across six sports. Over 250 students and
members of the Evanston community attended the event, and all proceeds went to
support the Kathryn Mahoney Fund. A senior gymnast at Michigan State, Mahoney
fractured her C6 vertebra in a practice accident in December 2010 and currently is continuing her rehabilitation at home in Western Springs, Ill.
Hosted by senior
softball player Michelle Batts and junior soccer player Christian Ludke, the
show was set up American-Idol style, with a panel of judges that included head
football coach Pat Fitzgerald, strength and conditioning coach Jay Hooten, Dean
of Students Burgell Howard, and Manager of Business Development Amy Potter.
Let's Get Down
The night began
with senior field hockey player Katie Lynch and Andrew Bouverette, who weren't
messing around with their rendition of Lynch's original song, "Someone to Come
Home To." While Bouverette set the mood with a pair of macaranas, Lynch played
acoustic guitar; the pair's beautiful harmonies meshed perfectly to complete an
understated yet whimsical folk vibe.
Going the Extra
Next up was senior
cross country runner Madeline Rozwat and her friend Douglas Husking, a member
of NU's own acapella group -- Freshman Fifteen. The pair sang a lovely rendition
of "I Run To You" by Lady Antebellum, completely with on-stage chemistry and
bubbly energy. The judges, however, said they wanted more "pizzazz."
Talk about a
showstopper. The third act of the night featured junior soccer player John
Rogers and sophomore lacrosse player Beatrice Conley. Decked out in white harem
pants, a purple vest, and a red solo cup atop his head, Rogers began by
painfully belting out the first verse of "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. Let's
just say, Roger's better hope to find a magic lamp if he wishes to continue his
singing career. The act was saved when Conley emerged as Jasmine -- with a voice
fit for a Disney princess -- and the two began a duet of comedic Jekyll meets
Teach Me How to
The show was then
interrupted by a surprise act from junior soccer player Peter O'Neal, junior
footballer Bo Cisek and academic advisor Davon Robb. While O'Neal attempted to
serenade Judge Amy Potter with a sappy rendition of "My Girl" and Cisek rolled
up his sleeves (to reveal his tattoo much to the chagrin of Judge Fitzgerald)
and read Fitz's favorite song- Livin' On A Prayer- in poetic form, Robb tried
to play bass decked out in a purple wig. The three were quickly interrupted by
emcee Michelle Batts, who attempted to "teach" them the art of a good talent
show act by pulling teammate Robin Thompson out of the audience for a 'Dougie'
2/5 of a Great
Act five featured
sophomore Jake Gregus and another member of his five-man band, The
Have-Naughts. The duo performed their own original song, "Rising Sun," a mix of
folk and rock musical genius, and the act was highlighted by a guitar solo in
Judge Fitz's face! Duly noted is the fact that Gregus managed to get on stage
with a casted broken foot and still rock out!
Me, Myself, and
Next up was yours
truly, Kristin Scharkey, with an acoustic cover of "Need" by Tyrone Wells. The
performance was the second time I've played in front of an audience; my first
being an open mic night at the Brothers K Coffee House last April. On both
occasions, Batts has taken on the role of 'manager' in encouraging a singer who's
usually too afraid to get in front of a crowd to do the shows. It was a
privilege to play in honor of Kathryn Mahoney last night; she is truly the
epitome of courage and an inspirational athlete.
Click It Or
The night ended
when student-athletes turned Youtube sensations Pat Gibson and Michael Bolden
staged a live performance of their viral music video, "The Seatbelt Dance."
Although Coach Fitz had warned at the start of the show that he would walk out
if he heard an utterance of "seatbelts,"
he ended up staying to be highly entertained by Gibson and Bolden's antics. As
they pranced and danced around stage, the duo closed the show with plenty of
laughs and cheers from the audience.
To see what all the
fuss was about, check out "The Seatbelt Dance" on Youtube.
Give My Regards
After the judge's
scores had been tallied (and Hooten was through channeling his inner Simon
Cowell), the winner of SAAC's Student-Athlete Talent Show 2011 was revealed to
be a certain centerfielder with a blog called ScharkBytes.
The highlight of my
night, however, was having the opportunity to meet Mahoney, an athlete whom I
have the deepest amount of respect for. Whenever I had started to get nervous
before performing, I'd simply look out to the first row of the audience and
find her gentle smile. I know I speak for all of my fellow NU student-athletes
when I say that she is an inspiration, and I can think of no one better to
honor than Mahoney with this show.
Editor's Note From
Scharkey: If you would like to make an additional donation to Kathryn's fund,
donations can be sent directly to the credit union at Michigan State Federal
Credit Union, 3777 West Road, PO Box 1208, East Lansing, MI, 48826 or to Kathie
Klages at 312 Jenison Field House, East Lansing, MI 48824-1025. Checks can be
made out to the "Kathryn Mahoney Fund." The account number is 398385-05;
however, that doesn't have to be on the check. People can also call
517-333-2424 and make a deposit via virtual check at no cost. Thank you for
your continued support of Kathryn!
first impression of the Japan Women's Softball League was better than she could've
ever imagined. A former Northwestern softball coach from 2009-10, Lappin had signed to play
professionally overseas in Japan and found herself immediately welcomed into the
country with open arms.
After a three-hour
drive from the airport into the city of Mooka, Lappin pulled up to her new
apartment to discover an unforgettable scene. Hanging out of windows of the top
floors of the building were many of her new teammates, waving and yelling "Lappin!
Lappin!" in clear anticipation and excitement. Others ran outside and
practically trampled the USSSA Pride catcher and her interpreter as they got
out of the car, reaching for her luggage and a hug. The gesture was one that
Lappin would never forget and became the first of many experiences to convince
her that, though the language barrier was considerable, she would have no
problems assimilating with ease.
Run by the Japan
Softball Association, the Japan Women's Softball League is comprised of 12
teams that compete in a 22-game split season; the first half from April to
early-June and the second half from September to November. Each team is allowed
two foreigners on their roster, providing many players from the United States
the opportunity to continue playing softball year-round after college.
Currently, there are eight Americans competing on Japanese teams for the 2011
practice only confirmed her belief that she would fit right in. That morning,
Lappin learned that in Japan, the team takes on all the responsibilities of the field crew before
warm-ups even begin, and meticulous six-hour practices are considered short. Yes, it was a different way to approach
the sport that she had fallen in love with as a little girl, but it gave her an
entirely new level of respect for her teammates and for the game. She went to
bed that night excited to learn from this group of women who had a fresh
perspective on the game she had come to live and breathe, unaware that the next
morning on March 11 -- just 48 hours after she had arrived in Mooka -- everything
was about to change.
Just 182 miles to
the southwest of Mooka, in Kariya, another former Wildcat had also set
foot on Japanese soil. Eileen Canney, a two-time All-America pitcher who led
Northwestern to the World Series in 2006 and 2007, had landed on March 2 and
was gearing up for her second season in the league with Team Denso. Canney was coming off her first summer as a member of USA Softball
and was eager to return to her old teammates to help Team Denso to its second
playoff appearance in team history.
The team wasted no
time beginning extensive training after Canney's arrival. For two weeks, she
and her teammates ran, practiced and scrimmaged in preparation for the 2011
season. Friday, March 11 started out like any other day -- a workout in the
first-floor weight room of their dorm -- but unbeknownst to the women of Team
Denso, nothing could have prepared them for what came next.
"All of a sudden,
one of the girls spotted the clock shaking and called our attention to the
movement of the clock and weights," said Canney via email. "It wasn't the quick
shaking like I've experienced before. The closest thing I can compare it to was
being on a rocky boat. Everything was swaying back and forth at a pretty fast
pace, and it was really difficult to maintain your balance because the swaying
was so strong."
The women ran out
of the weight room and gathered together on a nearby field to keep away from
falling objects. As teammates became visibly upset and frantically checked
their phones for information, Canney could only stand by and wait in fearful
anticipation, unable to understand and communicate in Japanese. Eventually, she
and the rest of the world would learn that the swaying she felt inside the
weight room was the beginning of one of the most catastrophic natural disasters
in world history; Japan had been devastated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake -- one
of only five ever recorded -- which then unleashed a deadly tsunami near the town of Sendai.
"Once it was safe,
we went inside to watch the news and contact our families, but a couple girls
couldn't get a hold of their families and friends," said Canney. "It was an
internalized panic and fear that you could sense in the entire room as we sat
and watched the Sendai Airport get engulfed by water."
North of Tokyo,
Lappin and Team Honda had just begun to warm up their arms for practice in
Mooka when the ground began to shake. A southern California-native, Lappin
remembers the earthquake initially feeling somewhat typical of those she had
experienced growing up. Only seconds later, however, the entire field began to
sway like nothing she had previously encountered before.
"You could see and
hear the leaves on the trees moving. We were right across the street from the
Honda [Motor Company] parts factory, and you could hear the metal factory doors
swinging," said Lappin, her voice slow and deliberate. "We all ran out to the
middle of the field and were huddled down on the ground, pretty terrified. It
was probably the scariest thing I've ever felt. It seemed like forever, and it
was so aggressive. It was a good minute of swaying and then it would slow down
a little bit and start to settle, and then it would start swaying again for
another minute. The girls were yelling in Japanese and I was yelling in
English, and we were literally squatting on the ground grabbing onto each other
and waiting for it to end," she said.
Once the earthquake
subsided, Lappin and her teammates were evacuated to a close-by parking lot
with every other Honda factory worker and employee, where they endured equally
intense aftershocks every two to five minutes for over an hour. When the women
were finally able to return to their apartment to gather a few belongings, they
found the power was out in almost the entire prefecture and their building was
in shambles. The team began preparing to sleep in cars until word was sent that
a bus would be coming for them to stay in overnight. It was there that Lappin
first saw images of the incredible devastation.
understand [the television on the bus], obviously, but the pictures and video
footage spoke for themselves. At that point, I just thought it was
unbelievable. First of all, it was just..."
trailed off as she struggled under the emotion and memories of the tragedy she
had watched and endured. "It was just so sad," she continued, "Such an
upsetting thing to happen for that many people -- and then, what were the chances
that I was there?"
Her question hung
ominously in the air for several moments, as we both considered the
possibilities of what could've been.
"We were lucky that
we weren't close enough to the coast to get hit by the tsunami," she said with
a sense of gratitude that could only come from one who had experienced the
disaster from such a unique vantage point. "We were all safe, and we had each
Over the next week,
both teams attempted to practice until the news broke of radiation leaks in
several nuclear power reactors as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. It
was then that Lappin, Canney and all other American players learned they were
being sent back to the United States. Lappin and Team Honda had become the
closest team in the league in proximity to the radiation; a mere 83 miles from
the Daiichi nuclear power plant, while Canney and Team Denso were 272 miles
away from the Fukushima plant.
Exactly one week
after the earthquake had occurred, Lappin flew back home to Los Angeles. Canney
followed suit a day later and returned to Chicago. Though they were grateful to
be safely home, the two women found it incredibly difficult to leave the
teammates that had become friends and the organizations they had bonded with as
a result of the disaster. They were expected to keep up with their training in
hopes of returning to Japan as soon as was reasonably possible.
Canney was home for
just one week when it was deemed safe enough for her to travel back overseas.
She returned to Japan on March 29 and quickly got back to practicing and
scrimmaging with Team Denso in preparation for league play. Lappin would
ultimately make the decision not to return for the first half of the league's
split season but continues to have the utmost respect and admiration for the
group of women that she was a part of during her time in Japan.
"The girls were
amazing and took care of me and took care of each other. I could not have been
in a better country or culture when disaster struck," Lappin said.
As Canney, Team
Denso and the rest of the league continued to prepare in the aftermath of the
earthquake and tsunamis, there was talk of delaying their 2011 season. Opening
day of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPBL) had already been
postponed by two weeks with the damage done to several stadiums by the
disaster, and facilities were looking at having to conserve energy in order to
host night games. The NPBL was forced to schedule more day games in order to
accommodate the worsening power shortages, and the postponement of their season
put the start of softball's into question as well.
Against high odds,
however, the Japan Softball League was able to hold opening weekend April 9-10 -- as
scheduled -- at the Nagoya Dome in Nagoya, located just north of Kariya. All 12
teams were present, and crowds of 8,000 to 10,000 flocked to the Dome to cheer
on their respective squads. Many fans received free tickets to the games as a
gift from the league, and fundraisers were held the entire weekend to raise
money for relief efforts in Northern Japan. Ironically, Canney and Team Denso
earned their first league win over Honda at the Dome, playing with the utmost
passion and heart that Canney says comes from recognizing how fortunate they
are to still have the opportunity to play.
"It was such an
honor and an uplifting two days to play in that dome! Each of the 12 teams in
our league were there, and the support of each company was tremendous," she
said. "Since the earthquake, it has been great to go out and battle as a team
in games. There are still some weird moments for us when thinking about the
fact that there are still aftershocks and radiation problems, and it can be
difficult to focus on the small things of softball when you know there are
major problems and people's lives at stake in the rest of the country. Our
biggest contribution to the rest of Japan is to focus every day on getting
better and to lift their spirits by playing with extra positive energy."
Team Denso is
currently 2-1 against league opponents and will play a total of 11 games by the
end of May before wrapping up the first half of their split season. Before the
first pitch of every contest, Canney says, they will continue to hold a moment
of silence to respect and honor the lives of those who were lost in the
earthquake and tsunami.
In recent weeks,
the team has been putting much of their energy towards coming alongside the
harder-hit teams in Northern Japan. Each and every team in the Japanese
Softball League have been collecting clothes, softball gear and signed balls
and posters to donate to those collegiate and high school teams that have had
to cancel their seasons or lost a lot of their facilities and gear.
the country is doing what they can and attempting to recover lost people and
items washed away in the tsunami. It is so inspiring to see everyone come
together in this time of need," said Canney.
[Editor's note: In addition to Canney and Lappin, former Wildcat All-Americans Tammy Williams and Garland Cooper also have competed in Japan's Women's Softball League in recent years, and their thoughts continue to be with their former teammates overseas. Join the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comments section of Kristin's Schark Bytes blog.]
One Thousand wins.
Wins. In program history.
This past Saturday
afternoon, all 22 of us were a part of something special, of something
bigger than ourselves. With a 6-3 win over Loyola (Chicago) in the second game
of a doubleheader, Northwestern softball amassed the 1,000th win in
the history of the program since it began in 1976 under head coach Mary Conway.
I don't think any
of us were thinking about the implications of that win in the last few minutes
of the 7th inning. I'm not even sure half of us realized the
significance of that moment. But we've certainly been thinking about it ever
To reach 1,000 wins
is a milestone in the world of college softball, a distinguished asterisk in
the NCAA history books. But what does an achievement like this truly mean for a
Northwestern softball head coach Sharon J. Drysdale, the answer lies in simple
"Even if you had 40
wins a year for 10 years, that would [only] be 400 wins. Twenty years would be
800. It would take over 20 years to get a 1,000 wins, and we didn't play a lot
of games back [when I first started coaching]," said Drysdale, who began a
23-year tenure as head coach at Northwestern with a 16-game schedule in 1979.
"When you think
about it like that," said Drysdale, "A thousand takes a long time."
Time. It seems to
be the key to Drysdale's mathematical formula; the unseen piece that ties win
number one and win number 1,000 for Northwestern softball together. Because it's
taken those great seasons and those not-so-great seasons, the Big Ten
Championships and the Women's College World Series appearances. It's taken
those 171 women from 1976 to 2011 that put on the purple jersey to reach 1,000.
"I'm proud to even
be a part of such an important milestone for the program," said Garland Cooper
via email -- a 3-time All-American and 3-time Big Ten Player of the Year who
led Northwestern to back-to-back Women's College World Series appearances in
2006 and 2007. "To me, it means that the hard work of all the people that came
before me, I played beside and that play now has paid off."
Along the way to
1,000 wins, Northwestern has earned seven Big Ten titles (including the school's
first for a women's program in 1982), made five Women's College World Series
appearances, and produced nine All-Americans. At a university where Drysdale
says "the sacrifices and challenges are greater" to excel as both a student and
an athlete, Northwestern softball has continually proven that excellence will
be achieved, no matter what obstacles lie in the way.
"I think the
milestone of 1,000 wins represents the great support of our university and the
amazing work that has gone into our program by the student athletes that have
participated, the coaches and all of our stakeholders," said current head coach
Kate Drohan. "I was just excited that we got to be on the field for that
milestone. We were lucky to be the ones in uniform because [1,000 wins] is
symbolic of the investment that hundreds of people have put into our program."
To measure the
significance of 1,000 wins is to peel back the layers and generations of
Northwestern softball. One thousand wins is 35 years of female student-athletes
excelling both on and off the softball field. It's 12,775 days filled with
tailgates, Halloween costumes and road trips to Penn State. It's 306,600 hours
spent largely in the weight room or on the stadium stairs.
One thousand wins
is 18,396,000 minutes of drop steps, ground balls and swings off the tee. It's
1,103,760,000 seconds; only a few of which are needed to steal a base, throw
that strikeout pitch or hit a ball over the fence.
As I sit here today
and read over the master list of Northwestern softball players and coaches in
the record book, I have a better understanding of Drysdale's equation. Although
the list starts and ends with two current players -- sophomore Lauren Ackerman
and junior Olivia Zolke -- there have been an incredible number of
contributions made over the years by the dozens of names in between. Finding my
teammates' names next to former players such as Eileen Canney or Lisa Ishikawa
instantly puts 1,000 in perspective.
One thousand wins
is not just a number. It's not just a 6-3 win over Loyola on April 2.
One thousand wins
is every woman who's ever worn purple, every team that's scratched and clawed
their way to a W. It's a telling symbol of Northwestern softball's past,
present and future.
"When you get to be my age, you look
back and you think, "That was a good ride," said Drysdale. "I'm glad I jumped
on and held on."
and welcome to Schark Bytes!
and foremost, I encourage everyone to become active in the blog by using the
comments section at the bottom of each entry! If this is your first time
reading, I'm honored and glad that you are here. If you've been to the blog
before, thank you for your continued support!
way, you might be curious what Schark Bytes is all about; how it came to be and
why it's being written in the first place. Or perhaps you're wondering who is
this Kristin Scharkey anyway? I
was recently asked to write an entry that answered all of those questions, and
found that this is the best way to do so.
know that instant when the entire world goes quiet? When everything around you
fades noiselessly into the background and suddenly, you're left with only
yourself and the moment surrounding you?
the kind of sensation I feel in three very distinct places: in the batter's
box, on stage and behind a pen.
may know me best as the outfielder from Yorba Linda, Calif., the sophomore
slapper wearing #3 on her back. It's my love for this game that brought me to
Northwestern to play for a program rich with tradition and made up of girls I
now consider family.
know me as a musician. I've been singing on stage since I could talk and taught
myself to play guitar throughout high school. Always on stage with a school or
church choir, I never dreamed of performing as a solo act. That all changed
around this time last year, when current senior Michelle Batts encouraged me to
play and sing at a downtown Evanston coffee shop's open mic night. It was an
experience I'll never forget and has opened the door to numerous performances
also a daughter, a Christ-follower and a die-hard Lakers fan. I'm a big sister,
a terrible cook and an avid reader.
to the core, I am a writer. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with this
school the moment I stepped on campus and toured the Medill School of
Journalism, Media and Marketing Communications. Consistently ranked near or at the
top of the nation's top journalism schools, Medill made it impossible for a
softball player with a passion for writing not to choose Northwestern.
year and a half into getting my degree, I can say it's one of the best
decisions I have made. Classes are challenging and thrilling--and though I'm
only a sophomore--Medill has already deepened my love for writing and
strengthened my skill set as a journalist to an unbelievable extent. I've had
the opportunity to write for several on-campus publications, for ESPN RISE, and
now, for NU Sports. I write to tell the stories that will make an impact on the
lives of readers. I write to express my own soul, as well as to tell the
stories of others that need to be told.
the reasoning behind Schark Bytes, and the writer behind the words. I hope this
blog becomes your window into the 2011 Northwestern softball team; from the
people we meet to the places we go to the experiences we share. Thank you for
taking this journey with me and allowing me to tell it to you through my own
eyes. We're looking forward to seeing you all at our double header against
Loyola this Saturday at the Sharon J. Drysdale Field! Go 'Cats!
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.
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.
freshman -- a catcher herself -- marched right up to the senior with her chin
jutted out and her eyes brazen.
"I want in," she
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
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.
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.
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!]
For some reason, rain on
the West Coast has been a prevalent problem during our pre-conference games
this year. It seems like every time we gear up for a tournament across the
country, we're hoping that the projected forecast changes in our favor. This weekend
was no different. After arriving in Palo Alto, Calif., last Thursday, it
proceeded to rain for three days straight, canceling five of our scheduled
games and forcing us to play two doubleheaders on Monday and Tuesday instead.
So what exactly does a Division
I softball team do
when the rain won't go away? When numerous rain dances and hours of waiting
ultimately end in game delays and cancelations? I'll give you four choices:
B. Play hacky-sack
D. Take a team trip to one of the most legendary
federal penitentiaries in the world
If you guessed option 'D,'
you're correct! After days and days of disappointing rain-outs, our coaches
surprised us with a day-trip to Alcatraz Island, the world-renown prison that
has previously housed notorious criminals such as Al "Scarface"
Capone and the "Birdman" Robert Stroud. The penitentiary is located
on an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, known as "The
Rock" and is now open for tours all throughout the day.
I knew that Sunday was
going to be a spectacular day when I started off my morning by watching a flock
of seagulls assail senior Michelle Batts. Let's be honest, it's not every day
that you turn around to see your clean-up hitter running across the crowded
streets of San Francisco -- arms flailing and sunglasses crooked -- attempting
to keep a fresh bowl of calamari for herself as seagull after seagull takes a
dive at the newly purchased meal. I had kindly taken on the role of tour guide
since I'd been to San Francisco several times before, but may or may not have
'forgotten' that my favorite little seafood vendor just happened to be located
next to a common roost for dozens of hungry seagulls.
We survived the attack of
the bay birds, however, and after a ferry ride that gave us a breathtaking view
of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco itself, all 22 of us (plus a few
family members), landed on Alcatraz Island. The entire tour lasted about two
hours, as you weave in and out of the prison guided by an audio recorder and a
set of headphones that is given to each visitor. We found ourselves locked in
numerous prison cells, standing in the exact corridors where officers had been
taken captive years ago, and examining the grates that three men had slipped
through in their escape attempt. We even played imaginary softball on the
courtyard field overlooking the bay where prisoners were given free time each
day! All in all, the experience was incredibly interesting and educational, and
I know each one of us was so grateful for the opportunity.
When we weren't exploring
federal prisons, we kept ourselves busy by cheering on the men's basketball
team in their NIT win over Boston College and with endless rounds of games like
'Mafia.' Of course, we were also constantly entertained by 'Sheiki's Daily
Text,' a joke sent out every day by freshman Amanda Mehrsheikh, and shared many
laughs when sophomore Emily Allard 'pied' junior Olivia Zolke's father, Scott,
in the face.
Not to mention the fact
that when we visited freshman Sammy Albanese's home for dinner and time with
our families, ping-pong battles of epic proportions took place for hours on
end. Imagine: 30-to-40 people crammed around a single ping-pong table, cheering
and heckling those in the game to the nth degree. There were father/daughter
doubles teams like freshman Marisa Bast and her dad, Michael; age-old duos Kate
and Caryl Drohan; and of course, crowd-favorites Denise "D-Baby"
Baker and her sister, Kimmie "Auntie Boots" Radford, mother and aunt
of senior Jessica Smith. Sweat filled the air, the sound of ping-pong balls
echoed throughout the house and emotions ran high; but boy, that night was just
what we needed.
The rain might've kept the
'Cats off the field, but it didn't stop us from enjoying the sights of San
Francisco, our families and each other. Times like this past spring break
allowed for our team to build on an already rock-solid bond as we head into
this weekend's Big Ten opener against Michigan.
"Coaches," the umpire calls, and our team begins to circle up as our head coach Kate Drohan heads to home plate to exchange the lineup cards.
"Here we go 'Cats."
"Let's do this, purple team."
"We win the first inning, Purp."
The familiar pre-game chatter starts up as we wait for the lineups to be exchanged. It's 9 a.m on a sunny Friday morning, our first game against UC Davis at San Diego State University.
"Oh hey two-four," an unfamiliar voice murmurs from the stands, and everyone in our circle turns around, searching for the fan who has just called out our shortstop, Emily Allard.
Standing there, with the sun reflecting off a grin as wide as his cheeks would stretch, is Emily's father, Bill. A truck driver who can only come home and see his family about once or twice a month, it's the first time in her career that he's been in the stands to watch her play in a Northwestern uniform, and it's a complete and utter surprise to her.
Emily's hand flies up to her mouth as tears begin rolling down her cheeks. She turns back to the circle and bends over -- hands on her knees -- overcome with emotion. I try to peer through the tears in my eyes and catch 17 of our teammates in the same state -- wiping away their own tears or resting their hands over their hearts.
"When I turned around and I saw his 'stunner shade' sunglasses and his hair that hadn't been cut in four weeks because he never has time to get a haircut, my heart sunk and my face lit up. The only thing I could think to do was cry and smile, and all I wanted to do was give him a hug but I knew I had to play the game first," reminisced Emily.
And play the game she did. That day, Emily went 5-for-5 and broke a Northwestern softball record with five hits in a single game, all in front of the man who left his truck in Los Angeles to watch his daughter for the weekend.
"I didn't even know I broke the record until after the game," said Emily. "I just wanted -- since it was the first time he'd ever seen me play -- I just wanted to make him proud. I wanted to get a hit for my dad. I didn't know I was going to get five!"
Those five hits were for the man who used to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on the weekends to take her to tournaments, the same man who caught Emily in the backyard for the duration of a ten-year pitching career. A father who promised ice cream after a home run and jokingly threatened to tie bacon in front of Emily's helmet to make his daughter run faster.
"I think the greatest thing that made our relationship so strong throughout my career was the fact that he wasn't a yeller. It was never, 'you weren't good enough' or 'you need to do better.' It was always just no matter the outcome, after the game his arms would be open for me to come into, good or bad, home run or 0-for-4," said Emily.
I've experienced first-hand the relationship between Emily and her dad, and I've
never seen a father and daughter more alike. Theirs is a relationship of trust,
respect and love, and there's no question where Emily got her sense of humor.
Although they only get to see each other a few times a year, it's like they've
never spent a day apart.
For a year and a half, I've watched my friend's face light up whenever she receives a text from her dad. I've listened to her giggle uncontrollably when they're on the phone together. And on the slight chance that Bill happens to be driving through the Midwest, I've seen every attempt to be made for a last-minute rendezvous, even if only for 30 precious minutes.
But none of those moments compare to that Friday morning in San Diego. On a morning when, much to the chagrin of Jimmy Dugan, there was crying in softball.