BELFAST — Hannah Southwick was determined.
A year ago, the Belfast middle-schooler was nominated, and tried out, for the U12 Softball Youth All-American Games, “an invite-only four-day experience featuring athletes from coast to coast held in eight markets every year.”
Southwick, a pitcher, fell just short of the cut, but was given some positive feedback and a list of things to work on before another potential tryout. And over the next several months, she worked diligently to check those boxes.
Southwick worked with pitching coach Diana Phalon, the former Smethport star who continued her career at Division I St. Bonaventure, two to three days a week and hit on the days she wasn’t pitching. She went to as many area softball clinics as she could, including the Next Level and Houghton camps, and spent the winter months with her travel team, the Southern Tier Bandits.
And, eventually, that hard work paid off.
This spring, Southwick again tried out for the All-American Games … and this time, she made the team, with the U13 squad. It was an exhilarating moment for Southwick, who just recently turned 13 and finished her seventh grade school year.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
THERE WAS just one problem.
The tournament she’d been selected for — scheduled for Aug. 14-17 in Ocean City, Md. — happened to fall on the same weekend of a travel event in Olean, which had been pushed further into the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And so, she was faced with a dilemma: seize the opportunity to play in this national tournament or stay home with the Southern Tier Bandits, a team she’d committed to months earlier.
Southwick couldn’t imagine not being there for her Bandit teammates when they needed her most. In the end, she made the difficult — and very mature — decision to pass on the All-American Games.
“I didn’t want to leave my team,” she said. “We’d been working all winter, so I should probably commit to the team I’ve been with for a while. And then I said, if I can’t (play on the national team), I’ll just try again next year.”
Said Southwick’s mother, Sarah Powers, who noted that the Olean tournament might well be the only one the Bandits play in all summer due to coronavirus-related restrictions: “We told her it was her choice. We said, ‘listen, there’s going to be some times where you have to make tough decisions and this is one of them. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s something that you really have to think about.’ And we were pretty happy when she said, ‘I’m not going; I just can’t leave them.”
POWERS THEN emailed the coordinator for the All-American Games saying, “Hannah was excited for the opportunity, but unfortunately, her travel team schedule got rearranged … and she thought that it would be selfish to leave for her own benefit and not be there to help (the Bandits).”
A few days later, they received an interesting, and welcome, response. Softball Youth was so impressed with Southwick’s selflessness that it gave her “a second chance,” offering up a spot at the July 30-Aug. 2 event in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Southwick, of course, gladly accepted. And in six weeks, she’ll be representing both Allegany County and Belfast as one of just two New Yorkers on a national roster in this prestigious event.
“I’m a little nervous,” acknowledged Southwick, who had her modified season at Belfast wiped out due to the pandemic, but might make the leap to varsity next spring as an eighth-grader, “but I’m excited.”
DESPITE THE continued uncertainty wielded by COVID-19, the Kentucky games — as of now — are “still a go,” Powers noted. The tournament, in fact, has multiple contingencies ready based on whatever regulations are in place at the time, including the potential of playing without spectators and setting up a livestream to allow parents to watch from home.
The hope, too, is that by mid-August, Western New York will be far enough into its reopening phases that the Olean tournament will also be staged, with only some social distancing and other guidelines in place.
Southwick, naturally, is thrilled; in the end, it all worked out.
And Powers? She’s proud — of how hard her daughter worked — the countless hours she put in — to make the national team on her second try, certainly; but even more so for how willing Southwick was to choose loyalty over individual gain.
“I’m more proud of her decisions than the strides that she’s made,” Powers said. “(It) makes me feel like her dad and I made the right choices along the way, and she’s learned, and we’ve guided her on how to act and make choices properly. That was pretty big for us.”