Second chances

— After de­cid­ing to sit out last sea­son, G.W.’s Paige Hughes is more than ready to make things right.

Paige Highes plays for George Wash­ing­ton High School’s soft­ball team. Here, she is in her home. Paige is a re­turn­ing play­er, who took the year of in 2012, March 25, 2013,Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Like any high school stu­dent, Paige Hughes some­times ex­hib­its flaws in her de­cision-mak­ing pro­cess.

But un­like many girls her age, Hughes is more than will­ing to ad­mit her er­rors in judg­ment. Not only that, but she is fiercely de­term­ined to right the wrongs that oc­curred last year, one of the most chal­len­ging of her life.

“Last year, things just toppled over for me,” she said frankly. “Some­times, you just reach a break­ing point. Sopho­more year was mine. Look­ing back, it was a matur­ing pro­cess for me.”

Hughes is a ju­ni­or catch­er for the George Wash­ing­ton soft­ball team, al­though her ac­tions from a year ago al­most pre­ven­ted this from com­ing to fruition. After earn­ing All-Pub­lic hon­ors as a fresh­man for the Eagles, Hughes entered her sopho­more cam­paign with lofty ex­pect­a­tions from head coach Kathy Paul, who re­ferred to Hughes as her “game-changer.”

However, things didn’t ex­actly go ac­cord­ing to plan.

In­stead of re­turn­ing for an an­ti­cip­ated sopho­more cam­paign, Hughes de­cided to sit out, for reas­ons Paul still doesn’t un­der­stand. Weighed down by her work in the classroom, as well as the count­less hours she put in for her fast­pitch travel team, the Phil­adelphia Spir­it, Hughes de­cided to ditch play­ing for Wash­ing­ton, a choice that cer­tainly rubbed Paul the wrong way.

When it was clear Hughes was not will­ing to put in the ne­ces­sary time to Paul and her team­mates, a non-am­ic­able break­up fol­lowed. 

“As far as I know, there was no real reas­on for it,” Paul re­called. “Maybe it was grow­ing pains, maybe it was her try­ing to fit in. Some­times, kids have to learn the hard way. But Paige is a good kid who loves the game, and I be­lieve in second chances.”

For her part, Hughes is re­morse­ful and thank­ful for the second chance Paul has ex­ten­ded her way. The ju­ni­or ac­know­ledged she had lots of mak­ing up to do, to Paul, her team­mates and par­ents.

When Hughes showed up for try­outs in spring, Paul didn’t say a word to her about last year. As far as she was con­cerned, she didn’t have to. Let the past be the past, she said, and see what you can make of the new op­por­tun­ity.

In ad­di­tion to every­one she feels she let down, Hughes also has a lot to prove to her­self this sea­son, es­pe­cially if she wants to reach her goal of at­tain­ing a Di­vi­sion I soft­ball schol­ar­ship.

“I love Coach Paul, and I am su­per ap­pre­ci­at­ive of her,” Hughes said. “I can’t say enough about how un­der­stand­ing she’s been in terms of what I went through last year. She’s a ball of fun. She makes you work hard, but she al­ways has you laugh­ing. I want to prove to her that I’m a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son.”

Mis­sion ac­com­plished so far. Hughes hasn’t missed a prac­tice yet and said she is “so pumped” for Wash­ing­ton’s first game on April 1. Paul has ex­pressed no con­cerns that Hughes will change her mind again, a fact she en­forced again and again. Hughes stressed that her team had noth­ing to worry about.

“They’ve already put up with so much,” Hughes said.

While many coaches might not be so un­der­stand­ing and for­giv­ing, Hughes lucked out when she drew the en­cour­aging, kind-hearted Paul as her coach. Paul — also the field hockey and girls bas­ket­ball coach at G.W. — vig­or­ously de­fends her de­cision to give Hughes an­oth­er shot, and bristles at the many de­tract­ors who feel Hughes should be con­tinu­ously pun­ished for a lone im­ma­ture de­cision.

“Paige made a choice, and in the end she real­ized she jumped the gun,” Paul said. “Long term, the per­son she hurt the most was her­self. She un­der­stands that now. People ask me why I in­vited her back, and I say ‘Why not?’ She’s a teen­age girl who made a mis­take. She’s ac­cep­ted re­spons­ib­il­ity, so now it’s time to move on and let the past be the past. If it helps her in the long run and the team as a whole, then I’m good with my de­cision.”

Hughes will see a good amount of time be­hind the plate for the Eagles, but Paul said Hughes could also see some time on the left side of the in­field. Wash­ing­ton, which won just four games without Hughes last year, has wel­comed her back to the fray along with skilled seni­or cap­tains and P/IF’s Bar­bara Dan­hardt and Liz Miller. Oth­er names Paul said to look out for in­clude OF Selena Alicea, 2B/OF Abi­gail Kanan, 3B Bri­anna Castor, P/SS Brit­tany Jones and 1B/OF Megan Klein­brahm, who handled catch­ing du­ties in Hughes’ ab­sence last year.

Of course, the key to Wash­ing­ton go­ing from be­ing a de­cent soft­ball pro­gram to a le­git­im­ate con­tender in the Pub­lic League is Hughes, and every­body knows it.

Her own im­port­ance to her school is no longer lost on Hughes; now, she un­der­stands that if she wants to be a Di­vi­sion-I play­er and role mod­el, she must first learn to put her team’s needs be­fore her own.

“Any girl who plays fast­pitch soft­ball dreams of get­ting to that level,” she said. “I want to see my­self on TV, sign­ing auto­graphs for the little girls who want to be like me.”

Hughes also has some ad­vice for girls her age who are giv­en a second chance after they mess up.

“If you get an­oth­er chance, take it com­pletely and be ap­pre­ci­at­ive of the per­son giv­ing it to you,” she said. “Don’t take it for gran­ted, and be sure to say thank you. My coach and team­mates have been so ac­cept­ing, and I can’t wait to get closer with these girls. I really missed them last year.” ••

You can reach at

comments powered by Disqus