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On Self-Discovery & Softball

by Elez B. S. '20

Dedication: to my teammates, who inspired and made me laugh every day, specifically Sofia Ohanian and Vera Walsh-Alker, who taught me to trust myself, and my coach, Scott Reynolds, who constantly supported and believed in me – and helped me become the best athlete I could be.

“Not that I’m expecting to play, but in which situation do you need to tag the person, rather than just tag the base to get them out?”

This is a question that I asked a teammate on the bus to our first softball game during the spring of my freshman year. Not only was it my first game ever, but also my first sports game ever. Obviously, I was clueless.

As in every game I would play over the next three seasons, my expectations were broken. My coach placed me in left field in the last inning. I was terrified, but lucky. The only ball that came in my direction stopped a few feet short of where I was standing, so that all I had to do was run forward, pick it up, and toss it to the shortstop. A small victory, but I still remember how proud I felt on the ride home.
 
But let’s start at the beginning. Even before my first day at Burke, I was aware of the sports requirements and I dreaded them. I strongly disliked gym class and quit the swimming team after one day. I never had, and assumed I never would, consider myself an athlete. When the spring of freshman year came around, I was encouraged by some friends to come out for softball. I knew I would need the credit to graduate and didn't look beyond the task at hand: getting through just one season. But to my great surprise, after one practice, I realized I had found something I liked. And that only escalated.
 
After that first game I played, I was hooked on the sport and looked forward to it every day. Practice took my mind off of anything going on off the field; for two hours my head was clear and focused. The thought of competitive games would stress me out during the day, but once I stepped up to the plate, every worry was replaced with excitement and exhilaration. I became part of a team, like I never had before. A strong trust and love of my teammates grew easily and unexpectedly. For the first time in my life, I was giving as much effort to something as I gave to my schoolwork, if not more. And it paid off. I was starting in the outfield by my third game, and stayed there all season, occasionally playing second base or shortstop. 
 
Did I mention we were pretty good? The Burke softball team was successful before I was a part of it. They went undefeated and won the championship title the year prior, so I knew I had a lot to live up to. The upperclassman amazed and inspired me every day, and I wanted nothing more than to prove myself to them. While I made hundreds of mistakes, I also succeeded more than I ever could have imagined: hitting triples, stealing home, making clean outs, and much more.
 
After a tough fight in the semi-finals, we made it to the championship game against Oakcrest. Determined to score a run, I made it to first on an error, stole my way to third, and came sprinting home, scoring the third run of the game. And it was a close one, we beat Oakcrest by just two runs. Eight weeks ago, I was completely skeptical and inexperienced, and now I was a contributing member of a championship team. 
 
Sophomore year, I started the season batting leadoff and playing second, but because many players had graduated I was constantly moved around. By the end of the season, I had played every position in a game except pitcher and catcher. After another close semifinal, we were on our way to the school's third straight championship (and my second). But still, some confidence was lacking. I remember almost coming to terms with the prediction that we would lose. Our opponents were skilled and had beaten us soundly in the regular season. But we had all improved a great deal, and by putting our best foot forward over the course of two days (there was a storm), we brought the banner home again. 
 
The next fall, I sat next to my coach at the school play and listened with anxiety and excitement as he told me that I would be filling the shoes of our (recently graduated) best player, the catcher. I’d come a long way since freshman year but catching isn’t something you easily learn in a few months. Vera (the pitcher) and I spent all winter on our own practicing in the Burke gym on weekends. By the start of the season I had the basics, and by the first game I was up to par with our opponent’s catcher. Again, I was immediately hooked. It was my favorite position yet.
 
My Junior season was harder than ever. We lost more games than we had in previous years and we struggled through the playoffs, barely making it through the quarter and semifinals. However, felt like we had more small victories than ever. I hadn’t even expected to make it to championships and yet we pulled through again. We fought hard and even had the lead late in the final game, coming up just short in the end. Disappointing, but there were more meaningful things. We were a team and I was the proudest I had ever been. It was my favorite season yet. I found rewards in places I hadn’t before; the comradery, newfound leadership, and the toughest challenges.
 
Speaking of challenges, as I write this, my senior year (and what would have been my final season) has been cancelled. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in – far  greater than just sports. I am heartbroken that it ended this way. I feel for all Burke students, especially seniors, who are missing their spring sport. It is something truly special and irreplaceable.

Yet while there is disappointment, softball still brings me comfort. Early this season, before school closed, I was training to be the new pitcher – possibly my most difficult feat yet. During a practice with my coach, he told me that what I did this season would not define my career. He was referring to my new position, but his words have stuck with me. In my three seasons, we had more success than most teams get to experience. I feel fortunate for every day that I did get, to have found a passion I never knew existed, and to have experienced the bond that only comes from being part of a team. Our careers are defined by all that we have accomplished, not what we’ve lost.
 
To my fellow (softball) seniors: We may have lost our last go, but we had three unforgettable, remarkable seasons. I’m certain the future will hold broken expectations, newfound passions that breed both challenges and rewards, and victories both big and small. I look forward to it. 
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Co-ed, progressive, college prep school in Washington, DC featuring a challenging curriculum in an inclusive environment for grades 6-12.