In a way, it’s not surprising that Samantha Gibson’s life changed forever because she was doing too much.
After all, that’s kind of her thing.
Luckily for St. Basil’s Academy and many others who have been touched by the Mayfair native’s generosity and self-sacrifice, it seems things unexpectedly have fallen into place.
Gibson, a senior, is a first baseman for St. Basil’s softball team, but she wasn’t always. She started out as a pitcher long ago, settling into the position as soon as she graduated from teeball.
Gibson always was a go-getter, pushing herself toward greatness while immersing herself in a game she quickly grew to love. She played for the Mayfair Athletic Club as a toddler and then played sports for her grade school, St. Bernard’s, while also playing tournament softball for the Philadelphia Flash and Philadelphia Spirit.
Then, during her sophomore year at St. Basil’s, Gibson felt an unimaginable pain in her shoulder — a torn rotator cuff. It was severe enough to put her on the shelf for nine months. A promising softball career was put in major jeopardy because of a Gibson specialty — overuse.
“I was playing for three different teams at the time, and it was every day of the week, pretty much non-stop,” she said on the eve of her final high school softball game at St. Basil’s. “I didn’t have to have surgery but I had to rehab pretty extensively. Having to sit and watch and not be able to play at all … that was the worst nine months of my life.”
Gibson shed enough tears during the lengthy mending process to the point that she was unsure if she’d ever play softball again. But instead of giving up, she leaned on the support of her many teammates and her family, mainly big sister Christina, a former St. Basil’s softball player who’s nearly eight years older than Samantha.
So Gibson did the only thing she knew how to do: She fought back. She fought back through the searing pain and the doubts that she would ever pick up a glove again. Gibson returned to the pitching circle for her junior season, but it was evident that her shoulder would never be the same. The injury had rendered her ineffective as a pitcher; the Panthers lost seven of their final nine games.
But Gibson stayed headstrong for her team, pitching effectively enough to give St. Basil’s a shot in the Catholic Academies League championship game. Gibson and her squad ultimately fell, 4-2. But her willingness to go out there time and again while in pain, because her teammates needed her, pretty much sums up Gibson as a person.
“These girls, I could cry over how much they mean to me,” said Gibson, who again filled in as a pitcher during a 14-5 loss to Mount St. Joseph Academy on April 26. “At this point I never get excited when I realize they need me to pitch, but I’d do anything for these girls. If I have to go out there and be in the worst pain … I’d do it, because I know any one of them would do the same thing for me. They had my back when I was injured, and I want to give back what they gave me … that unrelenting support.”
Though her days as a pitcher are pretty much over, it’s from the end of Samantha Gibson’s story. She has reinvented herself as one of the most reliable first basemen in the league, morphing into the defensive quarterback of the St. Basil infield. The transition to first base wasn’t easy — it was anything but — even though her coach says Gibson made it look rather seamless.
“To successfully play first base is not just catching the ball in the infield,” Steve Sonneborn said. “You have to field bunts, know where to be as a cut-off man … a lot of things go into it. She fought through her injury to be there for her team, and I think the move to first has taken the burden off her a little bit. There was a lot of pressure on her on the mound when she wasn’t healthy, and now, at first base, she can keep everyone around her more confident. It wasn’t an easy transition, but because of how good she is, it seemed easy just standing back and looking at it.”
Gibson wants to play softball next season for DeSales University while studying education. She already has some experience working with children. She’d spent so much time playing with Mayfair A.C. that Gibson eventually graduated to de-facto coach. As her talents became more widely known, she gave informal instruction to younger kids, and that soon evolved into private pitching lessons.
And thanks to her playing days with the Philadelphia Spirit, she and her sister Christina coach an under-10 team that Sam affectionately calls “the tens.” Twice a week, the tens gather for practice and then play tournaments on the weekend, which sometimes take them as far south as Richmond, Va. Coaching the tens with her sister has been a major commitment, but there’s no regret.
“All we do is sit at home and talk about the tens and how we can do this or that to help make them better,” Samantha Gibson said. “My sister and I are almost eight years apart, but we’re really close. She’s coached me since I was twelve, and we always said we would coach kids some day. It’s the biggest undertaking of my life, but I’m glad to do it.
“Last weekend I had my senior prom, but I was still on the phone every hour with my sister, checking the score and seeing how they were doing,” she continued with a laugh. “It’s just something that we both love to do.”
All of her responsibilities do become a juggling act at times, but with the demands of college just around the corner, Gibson is taking it all while she can.
“The big joke is, ‘Does Sam have softball this week?’” she said. “If I’m not playing, then odds are I’m coaching. The funny thing is, I’d rather stay in on a Friday night and give pitching lessons than go out with my friends, but my friends understand. I make time for them, but after dealing with the parents of all these kids, I almost feel like I can hold a better conversation with an adult now.”
Wise and mature beyond her years, Gibson is just thrilled that everything has fallen into place since her catastrophic injury. “The accolades and the attention just make me want to do more,” she said. “I’m ecstatic right now to even have people watch the things I do, so to hear all these nice things makes me feel like I’m on the right path. But I’m already thinking of what I can do next. I’m not going to stop, because I don’t know how to stop.”
Gibson knows that had she not been injured, things may have turned out differently. She could have been the recipient of a big-time Division 1 scholarship, but Gibson says she has no regrets. It’s a blessing-in-disguise type of thing, as she tells it.
“It happened at the worst time, but it also was a blessing, I think,” she said. “Going from doctors’ offices to hospitals to specialists, I thought maybe it was God’s way of telling me I should be doing something else. Something in me said, ‘You didn’t work this hard for nothing.’
“I’m a big crybaby when it comes to this stuff, because I don’t want it to be over,” she said. “But I know I’ll be back any chance I get, and seeing how happy I can make people makes me feel good. In the end it all worked out, and I couldn’t be happier.” ••EndFragment