Jan. 23, 2014
OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss softball team does not open its season until Feb. 7, but in many regards, the Rebels have already won the day.
In its trip to Memphis, Tenn., to visit the Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital on Jan. 16 and the National Civil Rights Museum on Jan. 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the softball team participated in a pair of events greater than itself, and is the better for it. In the eyes of head coach Windy Thees, being a college student-athlete is more than just putting on a jersey and competing throughout a season. For Thees, student-athletes are role models who should be looked at for their work on and off the field.
“Being an Ole Miss Rebel, you’re automatically in the spotlight for what you do athletically and in the classroom,” Thees said. “Our athletes are looked up to by a lot of people. It was great to go somewhere where these kids are fighting battles a lot bigger than what we fight on the field. Whether it was one young man who just had brain surgery, others fighting to overcome diseases, or some kids who had been in the hospital for two weeks. To be a healthy athlete, you go there and realize what a gift you have each day just to be healthy, and also say, ‘Alright, I’m going to win this one for some of these kids who won’t be able to play sports in the future.’ ”
On Jan. 16, Ole Miss visited the children’s hospital and played games such as HedBanz, Uno and Connect Four with the kids, and also drew pictures with them with crayons. Half of the team was also able to tour one of the floors of the hospital and go room to room to say hello, give them an Ole Miss softball and put a smile on their faces.
“Some of the kids wanted to play, some just wanted to be held,” Thees said. “They were all ages, from babies all the way up to 16-18.”
“It was really rewarding,” said junior third baseman Allison Brown. “I used to do this kind of stuff in high school, but doing it here there is such a bigger purpose because you’re at a university now and you have ‘Ole Miss’ on your shirts. They see that and they know what that means. It makes it feel so much more special. You’re doing this for the university, it’s not just for yourself to do it. The biggest thing was seeing their faces light up when they saw who you were, even if they don’t watch softball or anything. They saw Ole Miss and that was cool.”
Brown worked at the game center part of the hospital with the kids and said it was wonderful to simply cheer them up and serve as an escape for the kids where they could be themselves and not have to think or talk about why they were there.
“I’m glad I’m doing something that’s bigger than myself,” Brown said. “It’s no longer just about the name on the back of my uniform. It’s about the name on the front. That’s who I’m representing. I’m representing this university, and for those kids to look at me and say, ‘Wow, that’s a great role model at a great university,’ and not just ‘a great individual.’ ”
Following their visit to the Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, the softball team visited the National Civil Rights Museum for training in preparation of their work at the famous museum on Martin Luther King Jr. Day four days later.
The team helped at the museum Monday with everything from keeping the flow of traffic running smoothly throughout the museum, to working ticket booths, to standing in front of exhibits making sure people didn’t sit on them or damage any of the actual exhibits the museum has to offer.
“Martin Luther King Day is such a special day all around the country, but especially in Memphis, because it’s right there at the Lorraine Motel,” Thees said. “I wanted our kids to see there are struggles people fight that are, again, bigger than what’s on the softball field. It was really great for our kids to go there.”
Brown agreed and said she also enjoyed helping the visitors, even if it was something as simple as giving directions or answering a question.
“It was very hectic,” Brown said. “But it was cool to see a bunch of different people coming together celebrating a person who has done so much for us.”
So while the season still sits two weeks away, the Rebel softball team has already recorded a pair of wins in events beyond the field, and has shown that at Ole Miss it’s more than just softball.
“It shows we care about the community, we can reach out to them and we have time for them also,” Brown said. “We’re not only consumed with softball. There are other priorities in our lives that we want people to see we care about.”
For all Ole Miss softball news and information, go to OleMissSports.com and follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissSoftball and on Facebook at Ole Miss Softball.