I'm a sports nut who raises daughters, so naturally I get asked if we are going to have another kid to, you know, try for a boy. People don't mean it to be sexist or to imply that girls can't play sports. I'm sure they figure I want to teach someone how to play football or how to properly scratch himself and then spit really far when he is up to bat in baseball. And unfortunately, there aren't as many female sports role models as there are male, for media or social or gender reasons that I'm not going to try to delve into here. Boys have thousands of male athletes to idolize; girls have a much smaller pool to pick from - and if you remove (as I would like Clara and Kate to) those female athletes who think they also need to pose in their skivvies to get attention, the list gets smaller. Where have you gone, Mia Hamm? Please don't get me wrong - the country is filled with girls who are quietly and anonymously accomplishing great things, and they are heroes themselves. But a new kind of sports hero emerged this weekend, and she is exactly the kind of female athlete I want my girls to look up to.
In the Great Northwest Atlantic Conference softball game between Western Oregon and Central Washington, two seniors who had played against each other for four years came together in what will be considered one of the greatest moments of sports(wo)manship. Western Oregon outfielder Sara Tucholsky had never hit a home run before, and was mired in a pretty bad slump. Central Washington first base(wo)man Mallory Holtman holds her school record for home runs, as well as just about every other offensive record. In the top of the second inning, with two runners on, Sara hit her first home run, putting Western Oregon ahead 3-0. Theoretically.
In her excitement over watching her ball clear the fence, Sara missed first base and had to come back to touch it. If this sounds like something only college softball players would do, check out Mark McGwire's 62nd home run. Somewhere in her stopping and coming back to touch first base, she crumbled to the ground, apparently injuring her knee. Coaches and trainers came to her aid but feared that helping her would erase her only home run. Umpires warned (with sympathy, I hope) that if any of Sara's coaches or teammates touched her, she would be out. They allowed that a pinch runner could come in, but the home run would be reduced to a 2 run single.
I know what you're probably thinking, and I thought the same thing when I saw this on Sportscenter last night: there's nothing more important than Sara's health - who cares about the damn home run! I'm sure that's what the coaches were thinking when their conference with the umpires was interrupted by Mallory Holtman, the other team's first baseman: "Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?"
I can only imagine the faces of the coaches, trainers, and umpires as they turned to look at Mallory. Really? Central Washington was trying to get into the playoffs, and a loss to Western Oregon would jeopardize that. The umpires agreed that she could be assisted by members of the other team, but did Mallory really want to help the other team score? Mallory Holtman said later, "She hit the ball over her fence. She's a senior; it's her last year. … I don't know, it's just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it's the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony."
So Mallory and Central Washington shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Sara and slowly moved her around the bases, stopping to allow her to touch each bag and complete her only home run. The crowds and ovations greeting the girls as they reached home were in part for Sara, in part for Mallory and Liz, but mostly for the state of athletics as a whole, where greatness can be achieved in a simple act of kindness, where a young woman can be remembered not just for the records she broke for her school but for the impact she made on young girls just by offering a hand when she was the only one who could.
If I lived in Washington, I would drive my girls over to Central Washington so they could meet her. I honestly would.
You can read more about the story here, but before you click on that, leave a comment below, even if it's just a "hi." That's a picture of Sara up there.
Update: I've added the ESPN interview video of Sara, Mallory, and Liz below. Thanks to Sara's Dad for leaving a comment below.