• 81°

MONIQUE BATSON — Congratulations to the former PNGSL players celebrating graduation

I am many things, but “athletic” has never been one of them. I spent my high school days in the journalism room. The closest I got to a sport was watching it. I couldn’t even make it to first base in kickball.

So I never thought I’d end up coaching a softball team — or, rather, eight. Prior to my child signing up during the first season of 10U, I didn’t know softballs were yellow. But the following summer, PNGSL had more participants than the returning coaches could handle. Another coach was needed. And because I was a member of the board, I was called and asked to volunteer. I remember ending the phone call and immediately saying out loud, “What did I just do?” But with the help of YouTube, a few websites and blind hope; I managed to draft my first team.

And for the next four years, some of my best days would be spent on that red dirt.

Now when saying I “coached” a team, let me be very honest (because it’s likely one of them is reading this) — there was an amazing group of assistants. And by that, I mostly handled paperwork, organization, group messages, uniforms, etc. while someone else hit the practice balls.

During the week, we would play other Port Neches teams. And on the weekends, we’d travel the District 39 area to play teams in surrounding cities.

There’s an unspoken rule that the host team schedules the first game to the team that travels the farthest. So many a weekend we had to leave the house by 5:30 a.m. to make warm ups.

On the weekdays, it took the power of prayer and a strong cup of coffee for me to consider prying open my middle-aged eyes. But on tournament weekends, I’d bounce out of bed like Snow White, floating through the house all, “Rise and shine, children; the game of bats and balls awaits us!”

I can’t count the number of times we started at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave a field until close to midnight, often times playing back-to-back games with little to no breaks in between.

And that’s where my job ended.

Because as tired as I was standing at third base or handling the lineup, I watched for hours as these children — 9 and 10 years old our first season — played with everything they had. Sometimes it was freezing cold, sometimes 100 degrees, sometimes raining. But until the kitty litter stopped working and the water started to pool, they played.

They would ice arms and joints in the dugout only to toss the packs down and run back out. They would take balls to the chest, arms and legs, using the pain to push them harder as tears rolled down their faces. They’d cheer so loudly for each other that my ears would ring for days. When they weren’t playing, they would always sit and watch their sister PNG teams, clapping and shouting encouragements at every single play. And the other teams, players and parents, would do the same for us.

On the weekends with no games, the families often grouped together for barbecues or pool parties. We bonded each season as if we were related. And I’ll forever be grateful for the life-long friends I made.

My child aged out at 14, and opted not to continue softball at a high school level. Several of our former teammates did, and I made the effort to travel to games and support them when possible. But over time, with my work schedule combined with my kids’ extra-curricular activities, I was no longer able to go. Still, living in a small town, I’d see them at the grocery store, a restaurant or a football game. Every time, I smile and hug them as if no time has passed.

But it has. And this week, several of those 9- and 10-year-old powerhouses graduated high school.

To the former PNGSL players from my teams, our All-Star teams, and the other PNG teams we often played: I am so very proud of you. Whether you stayed in the game or chased a different dream, I’ve kept up with your journey. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of it.

  • Kailey Berton, PNG
  • Phoebe Borne, PNG
  • Baylee Brandon, PNG
  • Madeleine Cormier, PNG
  • Haley Galbreath, Vidor
  • Avery Girouard, PNG
  • Rayden Guerrero, PNG
  • Grace Landry, PNG
  • Lillian LeBlanc, PNG
  • Ashlynn Melancon, PNG
  • Hannah Robin, PNG
  • Abbie Romero, PNG
  • Paxton Shults, PNG
  • Rhionnon Weatherly, Kelly

 

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.