Childs Play – By Floyd Lewis – Sportsmanship Unmatched
By Floyd Lewis
One of the problems with writing a monthly column is that when something that is news worthy happens, something that would be appropriate for a column such as this, there is a great possibility that by the time you receive this copy of Softball West, many of you might already be aware of the matter of the story. But the story I'm going to recap here is so important for you to hear, that I'm going to perhaps waste this space for some, for the good of everyone.
Sportsmanship is something that is always preached to our youth as they begin competing in sports, and usually stressed at the recreational level of play. But as our daughters move on to competitive travel ball and advance in age, by the time they begin to play at the 18 and under level and on into college, it is something that has taken a backseat in terms of importance. The rewards become greater and need to excel causes this loss in focus.
That's what makes what happened on April 26th during a college softball game so special. It wasn't just any ordinary college softball game, it featured two Division II schools that had never qualified for the NCAA tournament, battling it out for the top spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Visiting Western Oregon arrived at the Central Washington campus trailing their hosts by one game in the conference standings and playing a double header. Western Oregon took the first game of the double-dip by an 8-1 score to move into a tie atop the standings.
With conference play nearing its end, one can only imagine the excitement mounting as the two teams prepared for the second game of the double header, a game that would most likely determine the conference championship and a potential NCAA Regional berth. Unlike the first game, this one would be closely contested and tight throughout, just as a "championship" game should be. Neither team scored in the first inning.
In the top of the second inning, Western Oregon's Amanda Fleer and Whitney Lee singled to begin a rally. Then Senior Sara Tucholsky stepped up to the plate. Although Tucholsky was a senior, she wasn't a leader on the field, playing sparingly in the outfield. She entered the game with just three hits in 34 at bats for the season, most likely not a player that Central Washington should have had much concern about. But Tucholsky was about to become a Western Oregon hero.
She took the first pitch, a called strike. Then she took a swing at the next pitch and blasted it over the centerfield fence for a three-run homerun. It was Turholsky's first collegiate homerun, and one would assume the greatest achievement of her softball career at the university. Excitedly, Tucholsky began to trot around the bases in jubilant celebration. But in her excitement, she missed first base and came to a sudden stop to return and tag it, so she could continue her way around to meet her teammates who were already gathering at home plate to join the celebration. But as she stopped and turned around, she crumbled and fell to the ground with an injured right knee.
The pain was so intense that she could barely crawl back to first base. The Western Oregon coaches understood the rules that they, nor their trainer, could assist her, or she would be declared out. The umpires and coaches gathered together to discuss the team's options. It appeared that their only recourse was to pinch run for her, which, according to the umpires, would change the home run to a two run single.
As the options were being discussed, Central Washington's first base person, Senior Mallory Holtman, approached the gathering and asked if there was anything in the rules that would prevent her team from carrying Tucholsky around the bases and allowing her to touch each base along the way. After another brief discussion the umpires informed everyone that they were not aware of any thing in the rules that would prevent them from doing so.
Holtman, a four year starter who was suffering from knee problems of her own and was facing surgery after the season, is a stellar player for Central Washington and is the holder of almost every major offensive record at the school. Her actions could have an impact on the outcome of the game, as well as her chance to finally participate in the NCAA tournament. But that's exactly what she did.
She and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight as they started the slow trip around the bases, stopping at each one so her foot could touch it, before moving on to the next. The player's, coaches and spectators for both teams accompanied the trio with a standing ovation for the entire trip. Western Oregon went on to win the game by a 4-2 score and move atop the conference standings. But the story was about more than the outcome of any softball game.
It's not often that one witnesses sportsmanship of this magnitude, especially considering the ramifications it could have on the future playoff aspirations of both teams. It was Senior Day for Central Washington, Holtman's final home game of her career. And while she stated that she felt that any player in the same situation would have done the same thing she did, many of us based on our experiences may not have the same confidence in others.
What is true, is that for this moment in time, this lady and her teammates demonstrated what we all remember from the early years of our child's venture into sports. They play hard, put forth the effort, have fun and show compassion as a team and as an individual towards their competition. I wish I could have been there to witness that, to experience that, and to feel that feeling that has long been missing in many of our lives. (See feature page 10.)
A couple of congratulations to pass along. First to John Miller, past Northern California ASA Commission for accepting a position at the ASA National office, and to Mike Blondino for been named as John's successor with Nor Cal ASA. Both are great individuals and deserving of their selections * * * * Also congratulations to the Fresno Force for another successful Fresno Force Classic held the last weekend in April. Always an early measuring stick for the 12U and 14U age divisions * * * * As always, you can contact me at email@example.com * * * * and so the ball rolls.