By Gail Wood
As last year’s league champs, no one questions the talent of Montesano High School’s softball team.
But their talent, which includes pitcher Madison Didion, who was last year’s co-league MVP, and first-team, all-league third baseman Mackenzie Howard, isn’t limited to scooping grounders, knocking singles and throwing strikes. Their talent goes beyond the softball field.
On Coach Pat Pace’s roster, he’s got kids on the school’s Knowledge Bowl Team, powerlifting team, drill team, math team and a player headed to a state competition in equestrian. He’s also got a few kids who have jobs after school.
“We’re not going to discourage them from doing something else,” Pace said. “We remain as flexible as we can be so they can do these other activities.”
These multi-talented Bulldogs might be perfect guests for Myth Busters, the popular TV program that disproves popular conceptions. The common perception is that in order to achieve in sports, an athlete has to be focused, pushing all other activities aside. Pace chuckles at that notion.
“Our kids are busy now,” Pace said. “We’re a small school. We have to be able to share the athletes across the spectrum with all the other things going on here. That’s just how we look at it.”
Howard is relieved to hear that. She’s on the Knowledge Bowl Team that’s headed to state in the next couple of weeks. In preparation for that event, Howard takes mock tests, answering questions that were on old state packets. And, she admits, she’s watched Jeopardy on TV.
But Pace isn’t worried Howard’s involvement with the Knowledge Bowl Team will be a distraction, somehow diminishing her abilities at the plate. Howard batted .600 in league games last season. She makes sure she leaves room for extra batting practice.
“You’ve got to be dedicated,” Howard said. “It also helps a lot with our team because they’re really encouraging and that just makes you want to be better because they’re always there for you whether you strike out or hit a home run.”
While Howard and her teammates stay busy, she doesn’t let other activities push aside softball. After practice, she and her teammates often stay for another 30 minutes of an optional infield and batting practice.
“We stay until we get kicked out,” Howard said.
Howard hopes to play softball in college where she’ll major in nursing, following her mother’s path.
Hannah Jensen, a returning starter at first base, isn’t only talented at softball. She’s also headed to a state competition in equestrian. Two or three times a week, Jensen rides her horse for about an hour, doing jumps or working through a maze.
“If I could do it daily, I definitely would,” Jensen said.
All her extra-curricular activities haven’t hurt Jensen’s grades. She’s carrying a 3.89 cumulative and she wants to enroll at Washington State University and major in psychology.
“I’m taking my horse, hopefully,” Jensen said with a smile.
Megan Choate, who is all-league in volleyball, basketball and softball, knows all about being busy. She goes from one sport to another all year long. With a 3.5 going into final high school semester, her commitment to sports clearly hasn’t hurt her grades. Choate, a hard worker who has started at shortstop since her freshman year, leads by example and by encouraging word.
“At shortstop you have to be really loud,” said Choate, who has accepted a softball scholarship to the University of Toledo. “You kind of have to be your pitcher’s eyes because they don’t see what’s going on behind them. You have to be the leader.”
Being a three-sport starter makes it difficult to find time to study. But whether it’s on the bus while returning from a road game or later at night at home, Choate always finds the time.
“With away games, you do it on the bus, but sometimes I get motion sick,” Choate said. “So you do it in class usually. If not, you just have to stay up late.”
With six returning starters, Pace, who is beginning his 19th season as head coach, is optimistic about the upcoming season. But even with all the hard work at practice and all the winning over the years – Montesano has won nine state softball titles in the past 19 years – Pace hasn’t lost track of what the ultimate goal is.
“It might be a statement used over and over, but our players are students first and athletes second,” Pace said. “I tell you right now that incorporates being more than a player. They’re busy doing other things. I’ve got kids who have jobs at the same time. So they’re balancing school, athletics and work.”
When one of his players does miss a game because of some other activity, Pace always recognizes them for doing well. There’s no guilt trip put on those players for missing a game.
“They come back and we congratulate them and recognize them in front of the team,” Pace said. “We’ve had a powerlifting state champion and a Knowledge Bowl team do well. We recognize that. We don’t ignore it.”
It’s been a winning formula for Pace and his Bulldogs.