I have been dreaming about playing softball in college since I first picked up a glove.
After I started playing for Firecrackers of Central California with head Coach Mike Wallace, it became more of an attainable goal.
Coach Mike’s knowledge of the game, passion, and constantly pushing me to be better helped take me to a whole different playing level. I am so thankful to have met Coach Mike because he has taught me so much about the game and about myself.
He really helped me grow as a person and as a player. Now that I’m able to get an education and play the sport I love, my dream has come true for me!
My parents were the ones that introduced me to softball.
My dad used to play catch with me in the living room when I was 3 years old using a soft toy ball. Something about the game made me fall in love with it that is indescribable.
I played other sports throughout the years, like basketball and volleyball, but nothing made me feel how softball makes me. feel.
When I play softball, I can find an escape from my everyday day-to-day life. I can leave all of my worries off the field and just play the game that I love.
It is such a blessing to have such a fun outlet to really let out my emotions and feel free.
I am also thankful for all the responsibilities that softball has given me. I have become a better student and better at time management because of it, and it will help me be more successful in the future.
I am grateful to have softball a part of my life but most importantly those who helped and joined me along my journey. This holiday season, I can’t but feel overwhelming gratitude for all those who have supported me.
Dealing with the Pressure of Your Family Name
The Grieves: A Family of Baseball
Baseball has always been the center of my life. When I was growing up at a young age, I never really felt the pressures of having so much rich baseball history in my family, but the older I got, the more people noticed my last name.
The pressure that came with my family name impacted how I treated the game. My parents did not put any pressure on how far I made it playing. They always just wanted me to play the game respectfully because the name on the back of my jersey carried a lot of baseball knowledge and experience.
My dad Ben was drafted second overall in 1994 by the A’s, my uncle Tim was drafted in 1994 by the Royals, and my grandpa Tom was drafted sixth overall by the Senators in 1966.
Consequently, the pressure was on my younger brother and me to be baseball players.
I doubt my brother realizes that yet, and I definitely didn’t know it at his age, but now, I realize. Every coach that I have ever played for knows who my dad is. When I go to big tournaments, people come up to me and ask if I am related to Ben or Tom. I definitely feel like people are always watching me when I am playing and that there are always high expectations for me to perform well.
However, I have taken this in the best way possible most of the time as I use the pressure to motivate me to reach the expectations people have on me.
Other times, it has been more challenging, though. When I make mistakes, I feel even worse than I should because I feel those same people watching are disappointed. It is nearly impossible not to compare myself to my dad or grandpa when everyone else is.
When I am playing at my worst, I wonder if my dad experienced those same struggles, and that weighs over me.
It is a blessing to have so much experience and knowledge of the game at home with me, as I essentially have the best built-in hitting coach possible in my dad, but it is also hard to learn from someone who had baseball come so easy to them.
My dad can give me all the mechanical advice I need, but when it comes to mental advice, he cannot offer the same direction as he does on physical parts of the game.
I struggled majorly with the mental half of the game for most of my life, as the pressure I put on myself was often way more than I knew how to handle. In comparison, my dad was the top prospect in the world when his senior year in high school rolled around, which is where I am right now.
He never dealt with the mental struggles I have endured, at least not as a high schooler. In that sense, I feel helpless when I get in my head, as the tremendous mentoring of my dad becomes less and less valuable.
He can offer some changes to my swing and slight adjustments that might help me get back on track, but he can’t help me get out of my head when I go through a rough stretch at the plate.
With that, I have learned to embrace the mental toughness I have developed, as I have never once thought about giving up. Despite all the struggles I have endured playing the game, I still only want to be better and work harder.
Maybe my mental struggles are a blessing more than a downfall.
I have used them as my motivation to practice more with my dad when I am struggling. Yes, I get down on myself, but everyone does when they struggle. And baseball is a sport of struggling, but I have never backed away from the competition or the challenge. What I once considered my weakness in baseball, I now consider a strength. When I am at my worst, my inner doubt has only forced me to become better. It is a unique part of my game that no one can compare to my dad, uncle, or grandpa.
Influencing a Positive Response to Mental Illness in High Schools and Young Adults
The legacy of dual-sport athlete and mental health advocate, Jessica Lefevre.
I hit rock bottom four years ago.
It was Halloween 2018 when two of my guy friends were killed in a car accident. Then one girl from my high school committed suicide, and another from Reveal High School.
I saw the effect that those tragedies had on all of the students and also on me. I almost didn’t graduate from high school because I started skipping classes because of how depressed I got.
In my senior year of high school, I had an interest from Chapman University to join their women’s soccer program. I saw soccer in my future.
Unfortunately, though I did not end up committing because my GPA was below what they were asking. I saw my future vanish. I didn’t have a plan, a future; I saw no point in being here. I questioned whether I wanted to continue living.
Helping athletes and hearing their stories is what kept me going.
I thought my world was ending. I didn’t have a future with soccer; I didn’t know my future. But speaking to all of these players gave me purpose.
I learned, “It’s ok to not be ok.”
We had the 49ers come to our school to talk about mental health. These guys were grown men and never showed emotion.
There is this stereotype that men can’t show emotions. So you never see it. But I saw these players get emotional, which showed me that I wasn’t alone. They showed me that being emotional is a strength, not a weakness.
Being on a football team in high school, I saw how this mindset of athletes, putting everything aside once you step onto the field because you have to look tough, affects athletes.
Football players especially have to have a tough mindset where they can’t show emotions on the field.
One day I was practicing field goals before a game, and none of them were going in. Something was going on in my mind that I just couldn’t brush to the side.
And I remember walking off the field, taking my helmet off, and walking to the bench. My coach could tell I was upset, so he came up to me and asked what was going on with me.
I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t hold my emotions inside anymore. Because whether you are a female or male football player, you have to look tough on the field.
But I learned that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness; it signifies strength and bravery. And I wanted athletes to know that.
That’s when I started “Safe Space”- a youth organization spreading awareness for mental health among athletes. I became a speaker for the organization and traveled to different school districts, hoping to impact the athletes and their families.
The change was seen- we got mental health professionals, counselors at all of our district schools and other districts in the Bay area (private or public).
I would talk to sports teams and try to educate them on mental health. I would also speak at my football games to the parents of these athletes.
I expressed the importance of having those hard conversations with their child (about suicide or mental health disorders).
I found a purpose to keep living.
My purpose was to help others.
I saw life is worth living.
Live each day with a grateful heart because it can change in an instant.
A Story on the Meaning of Sports
The Story of Cassandra Graham
So my sophomore year of high school, I was pulled up from junior varsity to play on the varsity team for the first round of playoffs against Redondo.
I had to choose between playing lacrosse and playing for the varsity team, and since soccer is my everything, I decided to play with the varsity team.
The coach put me in at forward during the game and told me to run as hard as possible even though I was a center back, so I wasn’t used to this approach. The ball was kicked over my head, so I took off and started sprinting.
While running towards the ball, I got my foot stuck when I knicked another girl’s knee, then my knee turned and poped. Suddenly, the whistle was called for half, and no one realized I was hurt until one of the assistant coaches came over to check on me.
I couldn’t straighten my leg, and the trainer for the other team did his best to get me to straighten it, but I couldn’t.
There wasn’t much he could do because I was in so much pain. I got home that night to my dad (an er doctor), and he did the ACL test and said it wasn’t that, so I just spent the next couple of days taking it easy because I couldn’t walk on my leg.
I went to an orthopedist, and he had me get an x-ray. His initial thought was a meniscal tear, and I would be back within the month. He ordered me an MRI, and I went that same night with my parents. When I got the results back, I remember the doctor reaching for tissues, so I knew it was bad.
He told me I fully tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus. He said that I would need surgery even if I didn’t want to go back to soccer because I was so young and still so active.
He put me in a full leg cast to let my MCL heal first, and then I would go into surgery. The first three days with the cast were awful, but my dad wanted me to go to a second doctor just in case, so we went to an orthopedic surgeon at UCLA who said that I needed to start walking asap.
He had a very aggressive approach, so I went in with a full leg cast and left with the cast off, and the doctor told me to walk on it as much as possible.
I had surgery within a month, but I had nonstop physical therapy during the month because if I did not have a full range of motion by the time I had surgery, I would never get it back.
I had surgery and then started the long road to recovery; my whole family was there when I went in and came out, which meant the world.
They were there to help me through it all. It was quite the process to get me in my house because it’s mostly stairs. I slept on the couch for the first few nights until I felt confident enough to go upstairs. My mom purchased a rubber cover for my leg to shower without getting my leg wet.
This recovery was during winter break, so the timing of it was actually really nice. By the time I went back to school, I had the brace off. I just leaned on my crutches and had my compression stocking on.
My physical therapy was right next to my high school, so I would walk over when I couldn’t find a ride. Physical therapy was my escape because although it reminded me of my injury, the people who worked there made me smile every time.
Bimonthly checkups with my orthopedic surgeon turned into monthly, which my doctor eventually cleared. But the aftermath would last much longer.
I think that my injury definitely changed my outlook on life.
I had been playing soccer since I was four; it was all I knew. My injuries forced me to find who I am without soccer because that was something that I couldn’t hide behind anymore. All I knew was how to be a soccer player, and it was really hard to realize that it wasn’t who I was as a person anymore.
I had always wanted to play in college, but it took me a while to even figure out if soccer was something I wanted to give another chance, mainly because I had a full leg cast, so that was how my whole high school knew me. There was a story where I was sitting with my best friend eating lunch, and a teacher walked by and struck up a conversation with me. When he found out about my injury, he said, “Oh, YOU’RE the one with the injured knee,” so even the teachers knew my story, which sucked that it was all I was anymore, the girl that got hurt…
The relationship that’s more relevant to soccer is my mom. She was at every game ever since I was little. She was there my first club practice, my first game back from my first injury, and (as you know, haha) my first game from my second injury. She took me to every club game, every tournament.
She loved it, though.
She loves watching me play because she sees how much I love it. When I was little, she forced me to play piano and make friends, but the minute she asked me if I wanted to play the next soccer season, I jumped out of my chair, screaming with excitement; it was the one thing she never did had to worry about.
She was even there when I got injured; she saw me go down and didn’t realize that I was hurt until I wouldn’t get up because I’m pretty tough when it comes to playing, so it takes a lot to take me out.
She was there for everything. She took care of me when I was nauseous from the pills after surgery. She got me soup and made sure I ate when the last thing I wanted to do was even smell food. She made me laugh and planned for some friends of mine to surprise me to lift my spirits. She missed watching me play as much as I missed playing. My mom knew all my moves; she had watched play for so long! She can always tell whether I’m about to push someone down because they pushed one of my teammates or pushed me the wrong way. Or if I was about to clear the ball or take some touches and slow the playdown, especially if I’m about to slide tackle.
She knew it all.
It was hard for her to see me struggling if I wanted to go back to soccer because she saw how much potential I had; she always thought I could go D1 if I trained and stayed healthy. She has always been my biggest supporter, and she’s so proud of me that I’m back to playing.
Beyond that, soccer was an escape in the sense that I never had to think about playing. Soccer was all muscle memory as I got older. When I was little, I could never stand still. We have many home videos where I’m just bouncing all over the field and springing back to play center defense, and it’s all I’ve ever known.
I never had to worry about making the wrong move or people getting mad at me because I knew that I would never stop until the ball was out or safely in our possession, no matter what happened. Even now, I never think about what my next move will be, which might not be the best thing, but I let my body take over.
When I was on my last club team, my left-back was my best friend, so it was even easier to play. She and I made magic on the field. It was so easy. I never had to think about what homework I had to do, if someone was mad at me, whose birthday was coming up, or even what I was having for dinner. When I play soccer, that is all that I think about, and even then, I’m not thinking that much.
Through the injuries, the expectations, highs and lows, big-time plays, poor performances, backyard games, and all the above… I have come to realize the true meaning of soccer. Soccer is all about love. It’s so much more than winning or losing games. I know, we all love winning and the grand expectations and team tournament dub IG pics, but it’s worth more than to be remembered for all that. It’s about the time spent with friends and family on endless days and nights, surfing the emotions of every moment and game out on the pitch. It’s ultimately about the people who have come along with you for the journey and who you have become in the process.
I’d argue, that’s the true meaning of sports.