Northeast Times

Mayfair's Gibson reinvents herself at St. Basil

— An in­jury ended Sam­antha Gib­son's pitch­ing ca­reer; now she's at first base, and she also helps in her com­munity.

St. Basil’s Academy soft­ball play­er Sam­antha Gib­son dur­ing prac­tice, Monday, May 7, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

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

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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