Pete Logan
Special to The Gardner News
The 2020 season never materialized for the Gardner-Edgerton High School softball team. Though they were brokenhearted about the cancellation, if ever there were a group of senior leaders with the mettle to withstand such a development, it was this year’s class — according to their head coach.
“They were upset,” said Joanne Calvin, GEHS softball head coach, “but I think they understood that this was for the best. They’re all in different places with their softball careers, so they are really concentrating on what’s next for them. This group has an amazing outlook. They’re looking to their futures, and they’re ready for the next step.”
As the COVID-19 outbreak began to dominate the news in March — just as high school softball practice in Kansas was beginning — Calvin was paying close attention to games in the college ranks. As more games began getting cancelled, and even entire divisions called off play, Calvin could see plainly what was in store for high school softball in the state.
“I was more prepared than the girls,” Calvin said.
Since the cancellation, Calvin has had the opportunity to speak with her seniors many times and even had the opportunity to give them a special sendoff while practicing social distancing.
“We got new uniforms this season that we never got to use in games,” stated Calvin. “So we arranged to take pictures of them in their new jerseys in the photographer’s driveway. Each one of them was able to get a picture of themselves in their new uniforms. We were then able to give them their senior banners.”
The 2020 softball seniors come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Their head coach took an opportunity recently to take a look back at what each of the six players from this graduating class had contributed to the program.
Right-handed starting pitcher and right fielder Lauren Lundy was about to become a four-year varsity softball player at GEHS. Two weeks ago, she was recognized as the GEHS Most Inspirational Athlete with the David Velasquez Award.
“Lauren had been in a terrible accident at the beginning of last year and fought back to be ready to play as a junior,” Calvin stated. “There were times that she might not have been 100 percent, but she would’ve thrown a fit if you told her she couldn’t go out and play. She’s every coach’s dream player. She does everything you ask, and everyone wants to be around her. I imagine that she probably would have been voted team captain had the season gone ahead as scheduled.”
Left fielder Kailani Donham will head to Pittsburg State in the fall to continue her softball career with the Lady Gorillas. Like Lundy, Donham battled through injury woes, although hers threatened to derail her senior campaign. Donham had hip surgery in November and was only released to practice on the last day before Spring Break.
“She’s a fighter,” said Calvin. “She was bound and determined to play her senior year. She wanted to try to get out there that first week of practice, but I had to park her next to me. She’s a hard worker and would run through a brick wall for you. She’s really fun to be around.”
Senior catcher Ashton Demo had just moved back to Kansas from California in December and was getting ready to play her last high school season as a Trailblazer. Demo had lived in Kansas until her seventh grade year and had even received catching lessons as a youngster from Calvin. Demo will play college softball and is being recruited by a number of programs, though the Coronavirus pandemic delayed her recruiting visits.
“It was awesome that they moved back to Kansas,” said Calvin of Demo. “She’s a quiet leader behind the plate and was playing at a high level in California. Her pitchers knew what to expect. She’s a sweetheart, and everybody here really took to her.”
Another senior catcher, Kenna Dehn, was set to split time with Demo behind the plate. Dehn is headed to Coffeyville Community College in the fall to continue her playing career and was about to join the varsity after a two-year absence from the program. Dehn was also a significant figure in the hallways of GEHS, being part of student government and leadership programs there.
“I’m so glad she came back out,” Calvin said. “She’s a true leader and welcomed everyone who was part of the team, and everyone was her friend. She was a real big help to me. She and (fellow senior) Caeley Billings designed our new uniforms.”
Billings, who will be going to McPherson College in the fall to play softball for the Bulldogs, was slated to be the Blazers’ center fielder this spring. Like Lundy and Donham, Billings had to battle injury woes.
“She had twisted her ankle in a workout this past fall and was scheduled to be released to practice over Spring Break,” said Calvin. “So she had been by my side like an assistant coach during practice. She’s an awesome leader. She gets along with everybody. She was so looking forward to being on varsity for her senior year after spending the last three years on JV.”
Perhaps no one on the team faced more injury adversity than Payton Outler. Outler was slated to be a manager for the program for her senior year, after spending three years as a varsity pitcher. The senior had undergone two back surgeries and was slated to have a third this spring.
“She told us that she was going to be back out on the field this season,” stated Calvin, “but we kind of had to tell her there are a lot more things in her future that are more important. She was our number one (pitcher) and had pulled us out of a lot of messes in the past. She was going to be an awesome voice on the bench, and she was an awesome teammate.”
For Calvin, a cancelled season won’t be how she remembers her 2020 seniors. For their head coach, their selflessness and positive attitude is the mark they left on the program.”
“I feel like — throughout the years — this group has really put everybody else first,” Calvin stated. “They’ve been great leaders, and they’ve realized that this is just a setback. They’ve been able to keep it in perspective. They were great in the time they had.”