Over a decade ago I was pursued by a few schools to play softball in college. I remember Northeastern State University, Missouri Southern, and Seminole State College. I didn’t know anything about the schools, and chose Seminole based on the fact that a girl I grew up with was there, it was an hour and a half away from my family, and their coach was one of the best.
My parents never participated in collegiate sports, and were pretty preoccupied that year with a family tragedy so we never actually sat down to discuss my options. The only thing I knew was that because this tragedy, I would need scholarships to go to college. We visited one school and decided on that, rather than looking around. I also didn’t receive much guidance from my high school coach on the subject. I had no idea what to expect, I was completely in over my head. The only thing I knew was that I was leaving home, and I was pretty excited.
My only good memory of college softball was playing on The University of Oklahoma’s field. I remember walking out there and staring. Thinking to myself, this is amazing. I can’t believe I’m here. I remember being proud of all of the girls I played with, and being honored to be among them. I was terrified of the coach. From my first practice until I quit the team I would shake as I put on my cleats.
My first practice I had a bad feeling. He made me nervous, and when I got cleated during a rundown, I was afraid to tell him. It was so bad that once I was able to inspect it, my sock was completely soaked in blood. Still afraid to tell him, I continued to play on it until it was infected. We went to the doctor who said I should have gotten stitches, and he yelled at me for not saying anything.
He talked to me like I was dumb and untalented, and made me feel like I was the worst decision that he had ever made. This man single-handedly turned my passion and dream into my worst nightmare. He had a way of looking at me that made my mind go completely blank, which angered him more. One time during a practice he had gotten so angry that he hit me over the head with a bat (I was wearing a helmet), and I spent the rest of practice crying from center field and listening to the ringing in my ears.
I tried to pull it together. My roommate would try to console me while I cried uncontrollably in our dorm, telling me to hide what I felt and just play. Just play. Don’t let him see you cry. I couldn’t.
It was the most frustrating feeling in the world. I managed to survive my senior year, watching my family fall to pieces, but I couldn’t handle this man. I couldn’t handle being away from home, despite not actually wanting to be there. I couldn’t handle the isolated feeling I had being labeled as the worst player on the team. I forgot that I was a strong athlete. I forgot that coaches pursued me, that I was useful, and talented. I had no idea what I was even doing there.
I called my parents, upset and wanting to quit. They couldn’t afford for me to go to college without a scholarship, and accused me of wanting to party instead of practice.
They were right. I wanted to party. I didn’t want to touch my glove anymore. I didn’t want to run another base, I didn’t want to have anything to do with softball, especially if this man was standing on the field.
My self confidence dwindled to nothing and I could tell that he had no use for me. So I started drinking with the students in our dorms that didn’t play. I got in trouble, and rather than pay the consequences (which included running a 5k) I quit. I found my way out.
When I told him that I didn’t want to play anymore, he gave me a smug look and said, “You burned your bridge, McGill. You will never play for another school again.” He beat me. He won.
After I quit, only a few of the girls talked to me. Most of them pretended that I didn’t even exist.
I was devastated. I had lost my team, my friends, and my identity.
I had also lost my brother about seven months before. My coach and most of the girls knew, but no one was really aware that I was still struggling because I refused to talk about it. I was still having nightmares. The only thing I had that was keeping me sane through that tragedy was softball, and it was gone. I had no idea who I was anymore, If I wasn’t an athlete. I no longer thought there was anything about me that made me special.
A sympathetic older teammate from high school mentioned me transferring to the school where she coached on the East Coast but I was ashamed to tell her about me getting in trouble. I was also terrified of going all the way across the country to another coach like him. I was afraid that if it went badly, my parents would be upset that I had failed again, and I would be stuck there.
Telling my coach was easier than telling my parents. They were very disappointed in me, and found ways to make me feel like I had basically ruined my life. I stayed there one more semester as a non-athlete, then moved back home, ashamed, discouraged, and depressed. I got rid of my equipment and didn’t play again for another eight years.
I carried that experience with me for years. About five years later I was bartending a restaurant in Tulsa and he walked in with his family. I saw him, stopped breathing, and ran to the kitchen to collect myself. I closed my eyes and was eighteen again, standing in the dry windy heat, his face inches from mine, spitting, yelling, telling me I was worthless. Asking me why I was there. Telling me to get out of his sight.
I started crying there at work. I somehow pulled it together and finished my shift, but I never kept my eyes off of him. I don’t know what I was afraid of, but I watched him, tensed up like a threatened cat, and was only able to relax once he left the building.
I spent years ashamed of what happened. I felt like a failure. I never even told my husband the whole story of me quitting. But now I know, it wasn’t all my fault. So to that coach I say this:
I didn’t fail you. I was a teenage girl dealing with issues that no one there knew how to handle. I was away from a very close family for the first time in my life, and I was afraid. I was a talented athlete. I was strong, I was fast. I was fearless, until you. You chose to intimidate a young girl with a broken home without seeing and cultivating raw talent. You chose to bully someone who joined your team who was in pain.
YOU FAILED ME.
I watched the Rutgers video and lost it. THIS is unacceptable, but common. We forget that these athletes are out of high school, still kids. They had a completely different life before leaving their families and entering this stressful but rewarding environment. These kids are our sons and daughters. It doesn’t matter how old they are, they will ALWAYS be someone’s son or daughter. While they can’t always be protected by parents, it is vital that these coaches remember that they are talking to teenagers and young adults. They are supposed to be leaders, and guide these students. I’m thirty now, and I see 22-year-olds as kids. They may look like adults, but they are kids. Away from home, with a story that they left behind.
My biggest influences growing up were coaches and teachers. I know, some of us seem hard to reach at times, but I will never forget Coach Bass yelling, ‘Free throws win ballgames’. I always felt comfortable and happy playing for her, on the court (even though I was awful) and on the ballfields. Also, Drew (RIP), Charlotte, and Moose Tyler for teaching me literally EVERYTHING I know.
Have you ever seen me slide? Thank Moose Tyler. I can still do exactly what she taught me, and it’s impressive.
Coach Gibson who made me part of his family when I was a shy 8-year old girl, and gave me peace whenever I struggled through my senior year in high school. Coach Kirk whose workouts I use to this day before I run. Charley for having patience with a loudmouth teenager, Coach Wallace (RIP), who let the worst basketball player on his team play, even if it would affect the game.
You are the reason that I want to be a coach someday. You are the reason that I encourage girls playing sports. I only hope that one day I can touch a life the way you all managed to touch mine.
So coaches, I know us kids can piss you off. I know we don’t always listen and we make mistakes. Please remember that we are still someone’s son or daughter. We take what you say with us. Some of us are walking a difficult path.