In my 18 years of coaching softball at Milwaukee Rufus King I have had many memorable games. I have been very blessed to coach many amazing student athletes who were great on and off the field. There is one game that stands out above all the rest. What is most ironic about this game is --- we lost.
I was entering my fourth year of coaching softball in 2007. In my first three seasons we had two 1st place finishes and one 2nd place finish but always had at least one loss in conference. I knew my 2007 team would be strong as we returned eight starters.
Catcher Megan Heath was a senior on that 2007 team. She was a four-year starter and three-time 1st-team all-conference player (Conference Player of the Year her senior year). I have coached many players who loved playing softball but I don’t think anyone loved it more than Megan. She lived and breathed softball. She was by far the leader of that 2007 team.
We played Milwaukee Hamilton (who won the conference in 2006 and also had many returning players) early in the season and we beat them fairly easily (4-1) with pitcher Gina Schliepp throwing a three hitter. The other teams in the conference were not as strong so we knew the only team to keep us from an undefeated conference season would be Milwaukee Hamilton in our second meeting.
A few days before our rematch with Milwaukee Hamilton Megan’s mother passed away. It obviously was a very hard time for Megan and for Rufus King softball. The day of the funeral was the same day as our softball game with Hamilton. Most if not all of our team was there for the visitation.
Then we had to play a softball game. At that moment I realized how little the outcome of a softball game matters in the scheme of life. I was so nervous about going undefeated that I lost track of what is most important in coaching--developing relationships with players, coaches, fans, umpires, and whoever else is around.
Let’s get back to the softball game. My entire team minus Megan is there physically but not emotionally. I just told them to do your best. I think half the team started crying including Megan’s best friend and battery mate, Gina. I asked Gina if she was good to pitch. She said she wanted to. Well, in the first inning we had five errors, three wild pitches, and eight walks. All of my girls were fighting back the tears between pitches. I went out to the circle to finally take Gina out when we were down 7-0 with one out in the first inning. She said, “Please let me finish the inning.” I said, “OK, go get them.” She got the last two outs and bravely walked off the field composed. Once she sat down in the dugout she cried along with half the team.
In the top of the second Megan shows up to the game. Hugs and more crying go on for a while. Then she says to me, “Can I play?” I was trying to hold back the tears, “Are you sure?” She said something funny like, “Well, I’m here. I might as well play some softball.”
When the girls saw Megan put on the catcher’s gear they became inspired and excited. For the next four innings we played amazing. I have never seen anyone hit a ball farther than Megan did at Hamilton’s field (if there was a fence, it easily would have been a home run).
We scored six runs but in the final inning Hamilton pulled away. We lost 12-6. Looking back it probably was better that we lost. If we would have come back and won, people would have been talking about what a great comeback that was. The real story was how great the girls acted and performed before, during, and after the game.
Don’t get me wrong. I love winning just as much as anyone. I have been coaching mostly softball and football for over 20 years. But now I am more likely to tell my team how much I love them and what good people they are than how important it is to win this “big game” coming up.