By Bailey Zenk
Growing up in the world of softball was a positive experience in my early childhood, but then, like so many athletes, I was exposed to the hyper-competitive elite summer leagues and expensive travel teams that changed everything for me….and not in a good way. As a young girl growing through all of the changes and the rise of fast-pitch softball in the mid 2000’s I saw various changes in coaching, the way the game was being played, and team selection. I was fortunate in a way that I got to participate in very competitive softball at a young age, but that led to adversity that would later break me completely, or so I had thought. A few coaches refused to accept me on higher teams. And I felt like there was some personal bias at play. Being a 12-year-old girl that was devastating to me, and after hearing the news, I began struggling in almost every aspect of the game of softball both defensively and offensively.
I joined a new association the very next season with a newfound hope, but still carrying the disappointment of last season. It was hard to find a silver lining in a sport I had once loved. Instead of getting to practice early I would show up right at the assigned time and I didn’t find joy in the sound of cleats on dirt anymore. I bounced from team to team for every sports year between the ages of 12-16 spending thousands of dollars on various softball trainings to prepare myself for what was supposed to be the best 4 years of my life and a way to get noticed by college coaches. High school ended up being somehow the most traumatic years of my softball career. The head coach was the same coach who denied me at 12 years old and continued in his old ways throughout all 4 years. Unfortunately, never once did I step on the varsity field/team.
Senior night or parent night I was not invited to dress, not honored specifically at our banquet like the other girls were, and Senior pictures I was forced to wear a different jersey while everyone else wore their Varsity jerseys. College softball had seemed out of site so upon graduation I quit softball, threw away my cleats, packed my jerseys so I would never have to look at them again, and tried to forget about softball. But boy was I wrong!
College was a fresh start for me, and I was excited to start school with no distractions. I chose to go to a community college to save money, but as I was signing up softball found a way to sneak back into my life. I met the coach while registering, and it seemed like a good opportunity for me. Little did I know it would change my life forever. I look back on my 2 years at a junior college with confidence saying that I broke 3 school records: 1. Most homeruns in a season (20) 2. Most RBI’s in a season (98) 3. Highest Slugging percentage (1.269%). I lead the National Junior College DIII leaderboard in Homeruns and RBI’s in 2019. I was also awarded 1st team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American, 2nd team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American, MCAC All-Southern Division Team, and many more weekly awards. I am now pursuing a 4-year bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology while playing softball in the NCAA DIII.
I can proudly say 5 years later I persevered through the challenges that were placed in my way constantly through youth sports. All the times I thought I gave up, I never truly did, no matter how much it hurt my feelings. I loved softball more than I hated the treatment I faced, and I knew I would always find my way back to a field. College softball was a safe place, a stress reliever, and that was something I hadn’t felt since the early ages of 12U. To me the sum of my successes was much greater than the obstacles. As a current coach myself I strive to teach the importance of flexibility, being adaptable, and staying strong minded because those were all things I actively did. I taught myself to keep pushing because growing up without my coaches believing in me almost broke me several times. I will forever hold onto the feelings good or bad I had growing up because it is important to remember the way I kept going down the path no matter the fear, always continued to carry myself, and most importantly persevered. I will carry this life lesson with me to every aspect of life, and it’s all because of the love I feel for the game of softball.
Bailey Zenk is a All-American softball player who holds the records at her junior college for home runs in a season, RBI’s in a season and slugging percentage. She is currently continuing her collegiate softball career while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a focus in child behaviorism.