For student–athletes at Clarke, the experience of being part of The Pride is much more than wins and losses. There is a history of support on and off the field that has a lasting impact. As he worked to grow his team in the present, Clarke University Head Softball Coach Garland Shirley was determined to help players past and present connect in a more meaningful way.
With this in mind, Shirley and his staff committed to not only developing a robust varsity reserve schedule to allow more playing time for all athletes, but to launching a program that would connect today’s players with athletes of the past. Shirley sent a personal letter to all former softball players asking them to write a short letter to the athlete wearing their jersey number today to provide encouragement, advice, and insight.
Within a month, Shirley received over two dozen letters from former players wanting to share their experience with the squad, including 2001 elementary education graduate Sarah (Murray) Fitting, who wore #10 during her time with the team.
“Being able to participate in this project brought me right back to my playing days as a member of the Clarke Softball team,” Fitting said. “Remembering my first start as a freshman to my final start as a senior and all the great games in between, it was an honor to share these memories, feelings, and emotions with a player that has the same passion for the game as I do. I hope the player that received my letter felt encouraged by my words to go out and have the best season, on and off the field, filled with memories that will last a lifetime. “
Receiving the letters meant just as much to the current squad. First year transfer Brianna Laughlin said, “For me, being a transfer, it showed that I was not here to just play the game, I was here to represent the players of the past, present, and future. It showed what the program was really about and the kind of culture this program wants to have. Every time I put on that jersey, I think of all the people who wore that number before me and how I want to represent them on and off the field. It is more than just a team; it is a family with a bond that will never be broken.”
Follow the team this spring at clarkepride.com.