Lisa O’GradySoftball and Much More
I was sitting alone on the front step of the school, worried about what I was getting myself into. It was the first day of softball tryouts my junior year, and I never even met my coach. I skipped the team meeting two weeks prior to tryouts, so I never got to meet her face to face. She is a gym teacher at the school, so I had seen her around all of the time. I was just too intimidated by her, so I never tried to talk to her. It turns out that this person that I was afraid to talk to at one point, has now had the biggest impact on my life, and taught me about softball and so much more.
Before I move on, I would like to give you some insight into the aspects of my coach’s life. Her name is Kristin Politi and she lives in New York. She graduated from Rutgers University where she played softball for the Lady Scarlet Knights. She started to teach at Roselle Catholic right out of college; she was only 22 years old. She teaches gym and health, coached boys junior varsity soccer, and varsity softball. Last I heard, she was a few months shy of obtaining a Masters from Montclair State University. She is now engaged to be married in May.
The first day I met Kristin was at tryouts. As soon as she got there, she took attendance and introduced herself and her boyfriend to us. Her style of practice was one that I have never been introduced to before. We started off practice by taking a 15- minute run, and ending with sprint after sprint after sprint. I will never forget my first memory of Ms. Politi. It started to rain during the middle of practice, so the grass was slick. She was showing us how to round first base and head towards second the proper way, almost. She took the inside of the base while her friend, and former teammate, took the outside. She was making her turn and fell flat on her face. Everyone laughed at her-especially her boyfriend. It was at that moment that I realized two things: she had a great sense of humor and that softball would be fun.
The first time that I ever spoke to her was the day before she made the final cuts. I went up to her and asked her very sheepishly if I could talk to her after our next practice. First she asked me if I was going to quit. After I said no, she said, “Well then, sure you can talk to me.” At this point in my life, I was having a lot of trouble and I was in therapy. This would require me to miss at least the first or last half -hour of practice once a week. I felt it necessary to tell her about this dilemma before she made a list of the final team. I was very scared. She was very understanding though. She asked a few questions, but she really seemed to understand.
I had only known Kristin for about a week or so when I went to her and trusted her with my deepest, darkest secret. I will never forget what she did for me, and the effort she put into helping. She might not think she did much, but she did in my eyes. She gave me a sense of security. I knew that if I ever needed to talk, or cry, she was there. I also knew that she would be honest with me and tell it like it is. I don’t know how many times I found myself in her office sharing with her my thoughts and my fears.
When I became a senior, I was really scared of graduating and leaving her, and her guidance, behind. I was not sure yet of what college I was going to attend; she helped with that too. I did know that I was no longer going to be living in New Jersey. I think what scared me the most was knowing that I could no longer walk down that hallway everyday either before gym class or before and after school; and go in her office to talk or goof around. So my senior year, she was promoted to Boys Varsity Soccer, and I did the score book for her. It gave me some extra time to be around her, and to have fun with her and the guys.
One of Politi’s best qualities is her patience. She never gave herself enough credit for that. My softball performance my junior year was awful. I messed up at least three games for my team single-handedly. I remember being afraid of the ball in the beginning of the season. The day of our first game she told me to get to school a little earlier. She had me put on all of my catcher’s equipment, put my hands behind my back, and get down on my knees on a mat. She stood there and threw softballs at me to prove to me that if I got hit in the game, it would not hurt. She was also very patient when it came to my personal problems during softball; such as my friend getting killed in a car accident the week after softball started senior year, and my when my father had his heart attack the following week.
She never gave up on me. My junior year, for some odd reason she had me in the starting line-up either as catcher or designated hitter, every game but one. This lady had more confidence in me than I did in myself. She always seemed to think that I could do it or handle it, on and of the field. She seemed to be that way with all of her athletes. Her expectations are so high.I feel that that is a positive thing as opposed to a negative. With her expecting so much from us, and knowing that we were going to run a lot if we did not reach them, it made us play at other levels; some of which I could not believe we could play at. For myself, with knowing what she expected from me, it made me not only a better athlete, but a better person also.
My teammates and I did not know how to handle her intensity at first. She was someone that we were never used to. Things were going to be different, and better, with Politi. She wanted and expected us to win. No coach ever had before. I thank her so much for that. My senior year we made it to the State Tournament. We had a disappointing loss in the round, but thanks to her, my team wanted to get there, and believed we could. That was the only state game I had the privilege to play during high school.
Politi’s expectations were not just high on us, but on herself too. There was an article written in a paper back home on Kristin, entitled “Losing is not an Option.” She expects to the best from herself also. That is why I think she is such a great coach. She does not tell us to give it 130%, and then only give 80% of herself. She gave it 150% all of the time. The one and only thing that drives me crazy about her, is that I feel that she comes down on herself too hard. She knows what she is talking about and coaching, and we all respect her, especially the guys. I was amazed at how they treated a woman as a coach; and that’s because Kristin demands respect. Politi is a very successful coach, whether she realizes it or not. Our softball went from winning only three legitimate games in 1997, to going to the states in 1998. She also took her boys to the states in the fall of 1997.
Ms.Politi has given me so many memories to take with me. The funniest thing I think I have ever seen in my life was the day that she got stuck on top of the fence during practice. I am not going to get into all of the details, but it was a sight to see. She was a good sport about it however. At our Spring Athletics Convocation, I had to give a speech about Kristin. I told an audience of about 150 people about that practice. Then came the seriousness. Politi is so dedicated. I mentioned earlier that she resides in New York. My high school is in Roselle, New Jersey. It takes her about 45-minutes to an hour just to get to school, which she had to be at by 7:30 in the morning. Practices usually ran until about 4:30-5:00, just around the same time as rush hour traffic was starting. She was also taking night classes every Monday during softball at Montclair State University. Politi would still stick around on any day to help anyone who needed it or wanted it.
I will never forget her speech at the Convocation. It made me cry. I felt that everything I had done was worth it. I actually thought that she was proud of me. I have such an immense fear of letting her down or disappointing her, still to this day. I have never received a gift that meant as much to me as her graduation card and gift did. The morning of graduation, we were all in the bathroom putting on our caps. I had finished and was a little nervous, so I started to take a walk down to my homeroom when she stopped me. She had a card and a box for me. The only time I cried graduation day was right before we all lined up and I read the card and saw what was in the box. There was a softball charm in the box that someone very special gave to her when she was in high school; now someone very special has given it to me. I had her put it on me right away and I have not removed it yet, with the exception of showering. The card was so touching. She said that she was proud of the person that I became and that I deserve everything life has to offer me. I keep the card hanging on my desk so I can read it every time I want to give up on everyone and everything.
I feel blessed to have had someone like Kristin Politi touch(in) my life. She is an exceptional person who has done too much for me. I feel that there is no way for me to ever thank her enough. Everything she has done: the long talks, the best advice, the Plainfield trip, the speech, the card and the charm, and I could never forget the fence. Kristin Politi was the best coach I have ever had, and I had a lot of coaches. There is one thing that sticks out in my mind that makes her the best: she is a person. Someone that is easy to talk to, will listen then advise honestly, and will take action if she can. Kristin Politi was so much more than my varsity softball coach, and has taught me so much more than softball. She taught me that things don’t always go our way, you have to work for success, bad things happen to good people, you should never give up, always “Keep Your Head Up”, and most of all, that I am a good person and I deserve to be happy in my life. Thank you for everything and I miss you.