A girls’ softball team that hadn’t lost a game in over two years offered to forfeit, rather than beat their inexperienced opponents by a humiliating score.
It happened at a junior varsity girls’ softball game in Indianapolis this spring. After an inning and a half, Roncalli was womanhandling inner-city Marshall Community. Marshall pitchers had already walked nine Roncalli batters. The game could’ve been 50-0 with no problem.
It’s no wonder. This was the first softball game in Marshall history. A middle school trying to move up to include grades 6 through 12, Marshall showed up to the game with five balls, two bats, no helmets, no sliding pads, no cleats, 16 players who’d never played before, and a coach who’d never even seen a game.
One Marshall player asked, “Which one is first base?” Another: “How do I hold this bat?” They didn’t know where to stand in the batter’s box. Their coaches had to be shown where the first- and third-base coaching boxes were.
That’s when Roncalli did something crazy. It offered to forfeit….
“The Marshall players did NOT want to quit,” wrote Roncalli JV coach Jeff Traylor, in recalling the incident. “They were willing to lose 100 to 0 if it meant they finished their first game.” But the Marshall players finally decided if Roncalli was willing to forfeit for them, they should do it for themselves. They decided that maybe — this one time — losing was actually winning.
That’s about when the weirdest scene broke out all over the field: Roncalli kids teaching Marshall kids the right batting stance, throwing them soft-toss in the outfield, teaching them how to play catch. They showed them how to put on catching gear, how to pitch, and how to run the bases. Even the umps stuck around to watch.
“One at a time the Marshall girls would come in to hit off of the [Roncalli] pitchers,” Traylor recalled. “As they hit the ball their faces LIT UP! They were high fiving and hugging the girls from Roncalli, thanking them for teaching to them the game.”
This was not without risk:
This is the kind of thing that can backfire with teenagers — the rich kids taking pity on the inner-city kids kind of thing. Traylor was afraid of it, too.
“One wrong attitude, one babying approach from our players would shut down the Marshall team, who already were down,” wrote Traylor. “But our girls made me as proud as I have ever been. … [By the end], you could tell they were having a blast. The change from the beginning of the game to the end of the practice was amazing.”
Perhaps more amazingly, Roncalli proceeded to put on a one-day clinic to teach the Marshall team how to play softball, then raised $2,500 to buy equipment, and arranged a retired coach to help Marshall develop further.
Roncalli High’s JV Girl’s Softball Team
And it’s attracted support from others:
A rep from Reebok called Sullivan [the Marshall team’s coach] and said, “What do you need? We’ll get it for you.” A man who owns an indoor batting cage facility has offered free time in the winter. The Cincinnati Reds are donating good dirt for the new field Marshall will play on.
And it’s making a difference:
This could’ve been a thing where our kids had too much pride,” says Sullivan. “You know, ‘I’m not going to listen to anybody.’ But our kids are really thirsty to learn.”
And they are. Marshall never won a game, but actually had leads in its last three games. In fact, it went so well, the players and their parents asked if they could extend the season, so they’re looking to play AAU summer softball.
Those girls and their coaches, on both teams, are a class act.
Rick Reilly: Compassion and Competition – ESPN.