Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Kind of Sports Hero

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.


Mom said...

This story honestly has me teared up. I hope my girls grow up with that level of compassion and integrity. I love this story.

Rebecca said...

I'm an only child and I was always convinced my dad would have preferred a boy, just because of the sports issue. I have NO athletic ability whatsoever. I played one year of soccer, in Kindergarten, and hated it. I played one year of softball, in 2nd grade, and hated it. And I played one year of volleyball, and didn't exactly hate it-- but one year was enough.

But my dad and I had hockey. His side of my family had season tickets all the way back to the Blues' first season. He took me to my first game in 2nd grade, and I was hooked. We went to every home game together, even after my parents divorced, even after he moved an hour and a half away. He passed away in 2001, but I got to see him the night before, at a hockey game.

He and I had nothing else in common and had a completely rocky relationship, but we had hockey.

Dmitri said...

That is plain life affirming. I started to get misty while reading it on my phone in a doctor's waiting room.

Anonymous said...

This is the neatest story I have heard of or read pertaining to sports in my 74 years. It really makes my day.

- Billie

Joel Bittle said...

Thanks for comments, "mom," Rebecca, and Billie. I'm sorry to hear about your relationship with your father, Rebecca - I guess it's good you had one thing to share with your father.

Thinking more about this story I realize that moments in sports that seem to have greater significance are those where being human trumps being a good athlete. Megan has heard enough about my favorite World Series play, when JT Snow crossed home plate while somehow reaching behind him to snatch up 3 year old Darren Baker before he was trampled by the next runner. He was always one of my favorite players before, but that play cemented him as my favorite Giant.

Marla said...

I love this story. I have printed it out and can not wait to share it with people at S.I. There is so much going on with sports and clubs and all that stuff that this brings it all back to reality and what it should be about. Thanks for posting the story.

Anonymous said...

It took me four times to read your final sentence. The first three times my tears blinded me beore the end. All the coaches at my school will get a personal copy of this blog.

On a different note, how lucky Clara and Kate are to have this account of their time growing up with you. You need to make sure you have a hard copy of all this...or is that my job?

I love you all!!!

Mike T. said...

As this story has been breaking and gaining steam all week, I have seen and read many comments similar to the ones posted here. I had hoped that more good could come from it. My hopes have indeed come true. Wthin the past few hours, I have recieved many calls, e-mails for coaches all the way from t-ball to high school. Most of them have said they have started their last practice commenting to their team on this story and the importance of sportsmanship.This is what its all about! Sara is my daughter, Mallory and Liz could be.....
Thank You

Joel Bittle said...

Thank you for taking the time to post here, Mike. I saw Sara, Mallory, and Liz on TV yesterday and could tell that they all had good heads on their shoulders, that they had been raised and coached very well. I'm sorry about Sara's injury. I hope she's feeling better, though I bet the attention she's getting is enough to distract her from the injury.

Again thank you for your comments, and thank you to Sara, Mallory, and Liz for giving us one of the best stories we've heard in a long time.

Heather said...

What a great story. I hope many people hear of it and pass it on to their kids and spread the values that these girls possess.

My situation is a bit opposite of yours - I have two boys and people ask if I will have another to try for a girl that I can do girly things with. I tell them that I am quite happy with my two boys and not getting to do girly things, that there is no guarantee I would have a girl, and that if I did have a third boy, he would not appreciate having to wear dresses and bows in his hair.

Nan said...

I just learned about this story tonight. I've scoured Google, CNN etc for more info about it.

I've been touched by the story and am so very proud to know that there is real sportsmanship still around. These young women are the kind of role models I hope my grandchildren will emulate.

Mr T - congratulations to your daughter for her home run, and I hope her injury heals well and easily. She has participated in something so much more than "just" a home run. In the interviews I've seen or read, she has shown the same integrity and standards as the two that helped her.

all the best,
another St Louisan

Anonymous said...

I am in the USAF currently deployed in Africa and have just heard about this story. I've also played softball most of my life and continue to in the AF, although it is the slowpitch variety. I have never had the opportunity, in 18 years, to see something as awesome as that happen. That should tell you how truly special those girls are. I admit my throat gets a little tight thinking about the impact such a display of courtesy and selflessness had on the people able to witness it. It also improves my moral to know that the military fights to allow extraordinary things to happen to everyday people. I give props to the parents of those women for instilling good values and good sportsmanship in their children.

Anonymous said...

In an era of steroids, obscene contracts, dog fighting, coaches gambling on their own sport, career-ending assaults, etc., it's such a relief to know that there is some integrity and real sportsmanship out there. I've never looked up to athletes before, but I do now.

Jim & Shannon Rowe said...

Way to go girls. Mallory works for us and has done a fantastic job on and off the field. She has inspired our little town and far beyond.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this story makes me cry everytime i see a report on it or read about it.

Robert Howard said...


Thank you for hosting this forum. I had read about this story and finally watched it today on YouTube with tears streaming down my face. I am sure that I am not alone in nominating this event as the greatest moment in all sports of any kind on any level.