Shelby Qualley didn’t get a single at-bat for the Los Osos softball team this season, at least not in a game. But make no mistake about it – she is every bit as much a part of the team as senior Marissa Young, who has pitched the majority of the innings for the Grizzlies this year.
Qualley is a 16-year-old junior with Down’s Syndrome. She attends practices and games just like every other member. She has always hung out in the classroom of coach Mike Randall because all the other players hung out there.
So two years ago Randall made her part of the team. She would even get a chance to hit a time or two at the end practice.
When Shelby asked the coach before a scrimmage early last year when she was going to get to hit in the game, Randall paused. After much deliberation he came up with a idea.
After every game, even before the teams shake hands, Shelby goes to the plate. Her teammates stand side-by-side along the third base line. The other team is still in the field, but gather in the infield. The pitcher lobs her a ball until she gets a hit. Sometimes it takes a few pitches. But she eventually hits the ball, runs the bases, and comes around to touch home plate.
Her teammates pick her up and toss her in the air. Only then do the traditional post-game festivities begin.
Randall always discusses the routine with the opposing coach before the game and 90% of them are fully on board with the plan.
“It just puts things in perspective,” Randall said. “Yes to us sports are important. But they’re not really as important as we sometimes think they are.”
This seemed to be a particularly close group of players. They’re bond is evident in the way they have rallied around Shelby and included her as part of the team. Thumbs up to them for seeing past hits and errors, wins and losses.
And thumbs up to the other teams for seeing the value in that moment as well.