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.” ••