JCD student plays serious ball

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

While many kids enjoy sports, few have a World Series win under their belt at the age of 12 as does Sydney Keene of Osgood.

This summer the Keene family, Sydney, parents Todd and Julie, and grandparents, Bob and Linda Gray of Versailles, traveled to Orlando, Florida, where her team EMR 12U Fastpitch Softball, took home the Gold.

Coached by Tim Barrett of Aurora; Sarah Eggleston-Gilbert of North Bend and Robin Spielman of Aurora, the team soared to an overall season record of 73 wins and only four losses.

They have 9 out of 11 tournament wins including the State USSSA Tournament and the USSSA World Series.

According to USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association) website, EMR is currently ranked #1 12U Fastpitch team in the United States.

Sydney said, “EMR is the best team I’ve ever played for. Winning the World Series was awesome. I hope we can do it again next year.”

Last September Tim Barrett, head coach for EMR called the Keenes asking Sydney to try out for the team. They traveled to Pastime Park in Harrison for a tryout where she was immediately offered a spot on the team.

You might say Sydney was born with a ball in her hand, according to her mother Julie. “Sydney has had a ball in her hand since she was a little girl, whether it be a softball, basketball, football, or soccer ball.” Julie said Sydney was about 3-years-old when she was given her first glove. “From that point on, Sydney and her Dad were in the backyard throwing and have been doing so ever since.”

“I coached Sydney when she was in Pee Wee League at JCD, and she would beg me to let her put on the catcher’s gear, but I always refused!” Todd commented. He said one day she already had the gear on so he gave in and let her catch. He knew she was good, but he needed her more on the pitcher’s mound. Years later when she started playing select travel softball, her team was short a catcher and she had to fill in. The rest is history. “From that point on, catching became her full time position...and she loved it!” Todd noted.

Julie said she always thought maybe Todd threw too hard to their little girl, but “she would get mad if he didn’t!” Her dad taught her not to be afraid of the ball and it has paid off for the Gold winning athlete.

The couple secured an official pitching rubber and home plate in their backyard. The love of sports has created a very special father/daughter bond. “Obviously, Syd has natural athletic ability,” Julie noted, adding, “but, I think the countless hours of playing with her dad in the backyard has paid off.”

What is the eighth grader’s favorite sport? Well, that depends on what time of year it is! “It really depends on the season! Basketball is my favorite sport in the winter and softball is my favorite sport in the summer!” Sydney told The Versailles Republican.

Sydney plays soccer, basketball and softball at Jac-Cen-Del. She’s also a captain on the jr. high coed soccer team, which plays today, August 27 against Southwestern.

For the EMR team Sydney is the catcher and calls all the pitches. Her mother noted at this level, pitching and catching can make or break the team, with the average pitch speed being around 55 miles per hour.

While it does take a lot of time and devotion to the sport, Sydney’s parents are behind her 100%. Although they will get a little break and a few celebrations, they are already planning for the 2010 season. “I think there are three or four tournaments scheduled through October and then they are off in November and December,” noted Julie. She said practice will resume in January with the 2010 season officially kicking off in March.

When the Keenes were asked if it was nerve wracking to sit in the stands, they replied, “Absolutely!” Julie said, “I sit and Todd roams.” Their entire summer has been all about softball. “You spend so much time with the other kids and parents from the team that you almost become family,” Julie told The Versailles Republican. She said one of the biggest blessings is the friendships that Sydney has developed with the other kids from various teams. “The experiences that this sport has afforded her include life lessons and friendships that far outweigh any trophy on the mantle,” her mother shared.

Julie shared one experience where Sydney was playing hard in 90 degree weather. She caught all six innings and was simply struggling to breathe by the end of it. “In the midst of it all, she got nailed in the shoulder by a wild pitch. That was probably the hardest for us as parents because we could see her struggling,” Julie noted. But, when her coach asked her if she needed a break, her mother said Sydney looked at him like he was crazy and continued to play.

It’s practice, practice, practice, but Sydney doesn’t mind. She lives for the moment that practice makes perfect. She’s also a typical near-teen girl who loves the outdoors, hanging out with friends, reading books (currently reading the Twilight series) and watching movies. Her favorite subject in school is US History.

“Sydney is fortunate to play with a group of talented young athletes. They constantly push each other to do better and never fail to support one another,” according to Julie. She said the camaraderie in the dugout is amazing and is also expected from the coaching staff.

About her coach, Sydney says, “Coach Tim is great. He makes us work hard, but we always manage to have fun, too.” From the beginning Barrett has emphasized that above all else, family, school, and church has to be the number one priority for the girls.

While Sydney’s official number is 4, she is number 1 to her family and friends who follow her amazing endeavors. “Julie and I are so proud of all she has accomplished. It’s bittersweet, because it’s flying by so fast,” Todd concluded.

Julie said Sydney has had tremendous support throughout the 2009 season. Julie’s parents, Bob and Linda Gray, went to Florida to see her receive her Gold Medal. During the season when they couldn’t be at the games, Julie said her dad and her would text back and forth so they could keep up with what was going on. Today’s technology allowed them to virtually be at the game and give words of encouragement to their granddaughter from miles away. “Sydney’s great aunt and uncle Mary Ann and CT (Sugo) Castner were big fans, too, supporting her at tournaments and burning up the cell phone to get the status,” noted Julie.

Ila Keene, Sydney’s grandmother passed away in February of 2008. She was affectionately known to Sydney as Mam Mam. After they won the World Series, Sydney turned to her Dad and said, “Mam Mam would have loved this!” Julie says she believes she (Mam Mam) was “up there” cheering for her the whole time!

It’s not a one person effort and the Keenes would be quick to tell you that. It takes the whole team pulling together. Sydney’s teammates are: Ellen Barrett, Jessie Benton, Hannah Rose, Tara Bailey, Tori Heffelfinger, and Alexa Lambrinides all from the Aurora area. The rest of the team are from Ohio and include: Tara Trainer, Mackenzie Wullenweber, Peyton Callihan, Brooke Dendler, Ashley Rains and Hailey Curtis.

Above: Sydney Keene of Osgood, is most comfortable with a glove and ball in her hands. She was part of a team that just won the World Series in Orlando, Florida, this summer. Below: The EMR 12U Fastpitch Softball team is pictured back row from left: Coach Sarah Gilbert, Tori Heffelfinger, Hannah Rose, Tara Trainer, Coach Tim Barrett, Ashley Rains, Ellen Barrett, Brooke Dendler and Coach Robin Spielman. Front row from left: Jessica Benton, Mackenzie Wullenweber, Hailey Curtis, Peyton Callihan, Sydney Keene, Alexa Lambrinides and Tara Bailey. The team won the Gold at the World Series in Orlando, Florida this summer.