Not that earning a scholarship to any college is ever a bad thing _ quite the contrary, in fact _ but some student athletes experience some stressful decision-making and quite a bit of time spent with correspondence and countless other peripheral activity during the process.
Weatherford’s Ali Gillard, who penned her commitment on Wednesday at The Outback, to attend and play softball at East Texas Baptist University, is thankful that her process was more like the right tumblers just falling into place.
Of course, the opportunity only came after years of practice, a countless number of softball games and an academic prowess that made her an attractive target for a successful college softball program.
“I was playing in a tournament in Houston,” Gillard said of her first recruiting contact, “and Coach [Janae] Shirley (ETBU head coach) saw me play.
“My coach at the time told me that he had gotten an e-mail from her, specifically asking for me so I, of course, followed up right away.”
What followed for Ali was a visit to the college, where she met with others in the program and got a chance to check out the campus and facilities. She fell in love with the university, which is located in Marshall, and feels very fortunate about the succession of events leading up to her signing.
“They came to me, and it just worked out perfectly,” she said.
Gillard was also drawn by the success of the program, which has a laundry list of recent accomplishments. ETBU is a member of NCAA Division III, and plays in the All-American Southwest Conference (ASC). Not only are the Lady Tigers a perennial participant in the conference tournament, they won the national championship in 2010.
“Their record speaks for itself, and that was one of the reasons I was convinced ETBU would be a good place to be,” Gillard said. “It shows they are a dedicated team and are willing to work hard for it , and that is something I look forward to while playing softball there.”
Picking up a softball bat at 4-years old, Gillard admits the her participation in the sport has had its rocky moments, but is glad now she is seeing the fruits of her labor.
“There were times I felt like ‘I’m just playing this game so much,’” the WHS senior said, “but I just loved it so much and couldn’t do without it.
“So, I stuck with it and now it is doing a lot for me, besides just providing a lot of fun.”
After a taste of the playoffs playing for the Lady Roos, and the perpetual fun she had playing on the Select teams, Gillard was convinced she wanted to keep her career going at the next level.
And at the next level, Gillard will be in the classroom as well as on the diamond, and she has some strong suggestions of where her studies might take her.
“I’m still officially undecided,” she said, “but I have been thinking of majoring in criminal science or psychology, perhaps with a minor in forensic science.”
Gillard’s Lady Roo experience over the past few years has highlighted the importance of bonding as a team, and having met some of the Lady Tigers of ETBU already, she already feels the potential of using the bond to perpetuate more success.
Ali is perhaps most thankful, as she preps for her senior campaign at shortstop for Weatherford, for the support that has brought her to this point in her career, and is open about her appreciation.
“I can’t imagine any better parents,” Gillard said of her mom and dad. “They have constantly been at my tournaments over the years and have just been there every step of the way.
“I just can’t thank them enough for how much they have done for me.”