They left the game, but the game never left them.
While we visited at the office on Thursday, Kristen Henton’s two sons quietly played video games in the corner of a conference room and Loni Harper’s 9-month-old girl – the youngest of her three children – slept in a car seat nearby.
Henton, 33, and Harper, 36, are two of my “kiddos,” young people I’ve had the privilege of writing about during their high school – and sometimes — college athletic careers and then keeping up with as they became moms, coaches, teachers and business leaders.
These two have done all of that, but something was missing. Actually, that’s not right.
They were missing something.
“Do you ever have dreams that you’re still playing?,” Harper, a 2001 Hallsville High School graduate asked Henton (Spring Hill, 2004).
Henton immediately confirmed she does often dream of putting on a softball uniform, lacing up the cleats and seeing if she can still “bring it,” like she did when she was a standout in high school and later at the University of Texas-Tyler.
She’s about to find out.
Henton and Harper, a standout pitcher at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana after high school, are co-founders and two of the four captains for teams in the East Texas/Louisiana Women’s Fastpitch League that is set to begin playing games in White Oak on June 23.
The league will feature four teams and play games at 3 and 4:30 p.m. each Sunday for six weeks this summer. The league is for women 18 and older who are current high school and college fastpitch athletes or past high school or college players.
The fee to play is $20, plus the cost of team shirts. Games will be played with two umpires and last one hour and 15 minutes or seven innings.
The league has enough players to field four teams now, but since rosters are loaded with busy moms, college students and successful businesswomen, the rosters will fluctuate and spots will likely be available throughout the short season (Email email@example.com).
“We just want to give people a chance to reconnect with past teammates and meet new ones,” said Henton, who will juggle playing softball with being a mom and her duties as co-owner (with her husband) of CrossFit Longview.
Both young ladies coached the game after college, and Harper currently operates Harper Softball and gives pitching, catching, fielding and batting lessons (903-932-4086). I saw Harper mow down opposing hitters in the regular season, playoffs and at the UIL State Softball Tournament back in 2001. I wouldn’t get in the batter’s box against her, but if I had a daughter, I’d dang sure let the former Ladycat standout teach her how to pitch.
Henton provided me with current rosters for the four teams making up the league, and the names brought back a flood of memories since I covered and wrote about most of them when they were high school and/or college players.
The rosters also brought back memories for Henton and Harper, and not all of them were good.
“That one,” Harper said, pointing to the name Christy (Shipley) Gipson, a former standout at Pine Tree, which Hallsville had to defeat back in 2001 to advance to the state tournament. “I never did get her out in a high school game. I might have gotten her once in a summer league game.”
Is she looking forward to facing Gipson again a little more than 18 years later?
“Not really. She’ll probably rip me again,” Harper said with a laugh.
That’s a battle I’d pay to watch again, but the cool thing is I don’t have to.
I plan to be there on opening day. I’ll be the old, sunburned guy cheering on a bunch of young ladies who are all grown up now but will always be kiddos in my book.