(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
BENTON -- Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines adversity as a state, condition or instance of serious or continued difficulty.
This is a word that the Kelly Lady Hawks know all too well.
Most seriously, Casey Kern, Brittany Brantley and Katee Moore each have suffered major injuries that have permanently affected their life on and off the softball field.
Kern tore the labrum in her right shoulder when she was 14 years old. She attended therapy for sometime to strengthen the muscle, but by the time she was 16 doctors found that it had gotten worse. Surgery was then done at the end of the 2007 season.
In Brantley's case, she tore both her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and meniscus in each of her knee's during her sophomore and junior years. They also found a tear in her Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in her left leg as well. Brantley, who is the catcher for the Lady Hawks, relies heavily on her knees, which is vital to her position.
Moore has a permanently torn rotator cuff. The first surgery to repair the injury actually was a successful one. But, just last March, a minor procedure found that it was torn again and it could not be fixed.
Even through all of that, each one of the girls never blame or point to their injury as a hinderance on the field.
"To know that those girls have any kind of injuries, you would never know," Kelly head coach Rhonda Ratledge said. "They never complain. Never."
"I don't have any complaints," Moore said. "I'm out here playing."
Kern's injury has made it impossible for her to pitch anymore, therefore landing her as the regular first baseman since the injury. Moore had to make the switch from shortstop to second base because of the stress that the longer throws of playing shortstop would bring to her shoulder. Brantley said that her knee injuries affected her more during last season and since she has had more time to recover she can now play without any pain.
"I'm usually the one that has to say 'easy on the arm' or things like that," said Ratledge. "I do know that those injuries are still there and we have to keep the girls going and keep them healthy.
"If it was up to them, they would play right through the pain."
Not only have injuries set them back, but the six seniors, Moore, Brantley, Kern, Lana Whitworth, Jessica Riley and Heather Beggs, have been through the ups-and-downs that the last three seasons have brought.
Just before their freshman year, the Lady Hawks brought home their second state title in 2004. In the three years proceeding, those six seniors have experienced a sectional loss to Strafford in 2005, a semifinals loss to Westran in 2006 and in 2007 another semifinals loss to Palmyra.
With the state semifinals starting on Friday, there were no talks of these girls injuries or past defeats during Wednesday's practice or any other practice for that matter, just what needs to be worked on to get the job done to win their third state title in school history.
"They have all been a part of district championships, sectionals, quarterfinals and making it to state," Ratledge said about her seniors. "They're just trying to get out of that semifinal round."
Brantley, Moore and Kern each believe that this is the year. It may be because of the fundamentals at the plate or the talents that each position player possess, but they each point to one common asset. The concept of a team.
"There's no conflict on the team," Brantley said. "Everyone gets along with everybody else and we all want it. Everyone has the same goal this year and wants it more than I've ever seen us want it so far."
The six seniors know that it's not just one state title that's at stake. They are in the business of keeping the success of the Kelly softball program going. Which means they have to be the mentors for the younger girls.
They have no problems with that role.
"They definitely harass the younger girls and tell them they better pick it up and don't let us down because you're the ones coming in behind us," Ratledge said about the senior's leadership qualities. "They set the pace and the younger girls have to continue it. The seniors try to make them work and make them see what the tradition is all about."
The tradition of softball at Kelly high school is a rich one. There have been two state titles, one second place finish, five third place finishes and two fourth place finishes. They also hold the most district titles in Missouri with 24.
"We realize what's at stake," Kern added. "All of us do. This is our last year. We all realize that we don't get another chance to come back. We have to have the underclassmen have that same mentality. They don't realize yet that they still have a few more years and if you keep it on their mind that this is big and this is what we've worked for all our four years, then by the time they're seniors hopefully they will feel the same way."
As they make their way into St. Joseph on Thursday night, all the injuries, all the past playoff losses, all the adversity that the Kelly Lady Hawks have endured the past few years will hopefully not be in vain.
Maybe another word will will shine through more than any other.
To persist in a course of action, enterprise or undertaking in spite of counter-influences, opposition or discouragement.