Jessica Harry has spent many hours on a softball diamond. The countless practices and games played are now all paying dividends.
After years of dusty bus rides with ice bags wrapped on strained aching muscles, her talents with the optic yellow softball are being parlayed into a college education.
There’s a catch to her being a catcher and the free ride to college — her scholarship is in Parsons, Kan. at Labette Community College.
Harry, a stellar pitcher/shortstop for North Hopkins, will be wearing the chest protector and shin guards behind the plate to fill a need of the Kansas team - squatting behind the dish.
“I played centerfield my freshman year, the last three years I have been at pitcher or shortstop,” Harry said. “Catching will be new, but it’s something I can do to help the team.”
Harry said she tried out at catcher and liked it, when she toured the campus located in the town of 13,000 in southeast Kansas several months ago. She also talked with Labette head softball coach Ryan Phillips who offered the college scholarship to the two-year school. Jessica snatched the offer like she was fielding a line drive.
“I don’t mind switching to a new position. I know I will be have to be competing within the team for the job. I’ve never been afraid of competition,” Harry said. “I like catching because you’re always moving — staying in the game.”
Harry, has been playing every spring and summer she can remember — 15 of her 18 years. She not only played on her high school team, but on a select traveling team for several years.
It was her traveling team coach, Glenn Blancett of Caddo Mills, who brought Harry to the attention of Phillips. Labette already has six players from Texas on the roster, some from the Greenville, Caddo Mills and Campbell.
Harry’s roommate will be Courtney Guthrie of Caddo Mills.
“It’s good to have some people from Texas around you,” Harry said. “This is the first time I have been away from home. I will be five and half hours away, so yes, some homesickness will be involved.”
Harry will hardly have time to miss the Lone Star state with her studies, practice and a schedule which features about 100 games during the school year.
“Last year they had weather issues and didn’t get to play a full schedule,” Harry said. “It gets cold in Kansas, last winter it was minus 5 so, it’s a big change from Texas.”
Harry said with a laugh, “I’ve played softball here in mid-January. You can’t do that most of the time in Kansas, it gets really cold.”
Harry said she is ready to take the step up the college competition.
“At North Hopkins we were a lot better than some of the teams we played, the competition was not that tough,” Harry said.
She earned first team all-district honors, tying for MVP of the district with teammate Chastin Smiddy. She also was a member of the academic all-state team.
“At college I know it will be a challenge and I am ready for it,” Harry said.
She said, “I am going up to Kansas with an open mind. I will be ready to whatever comes my way. I want to better myself and do what I can to make the team better. I know it is a big step from Class 1A softball, but I am ready to earn my spot. This is a big opportunity I have and I want to make the best of it.”
Harry wants to be a respiratory therapist and hopes to return to Texas after her two years at Labette and maybe play softball in college while she continues her education.
She leaves to make the 335-mile drive to Parsons, Kan. on Aug. 15.
Phillips, the Labette coach will be starting his seventh year as the head softball coach. He knows the place well; he played baseball at that school.
“We have a little Texas connection going and we are sure glad to sign Jessica,” Phillips said. “She’ll be the seventh player we have from Texas. So maybe if nothing else, they can save money on gas when they go home and can ride together.”
Phillips said he has five pitchers on the roster already, which is why he asked Harry to trade pitching for catching.
“She tried out for us at catcher, and we were impressed and offered her a scholarship,” Phillips said. “She has a very strong arm and quick feet. She will not have any trouble throwing runners out. She’s a very talented athlete.”
Phillips continued, “As a catcher or maybe an outfielder, she will do a tremendous job for us. She should come in and get a lot of playing time as a freshman. She has the fundamentals, she knows how to win she’s from a successful program. We can really use her experience.”
The Labette Cardinal softball team went 24-23 last season earning fourth place in the NJCAA Division II Jayhawk conference.
Phillips said, “She is already a good hitter. She can probably hit a lot of doubles. But we are going to work on power and see if she can’t add a little more pop to her bat.”
“We want to win more games and not only win in conference, but be competitive on a national level,” Phillips added. “It’ll take players like Jessica to get us over the hump. She knows how to be successful. She had a lot of success at North Hopkins.”
Jessica’s coach at North Hopkins Jim Westbrook said he thinks she will be successful at Labette Community College.
“I haven’t had that many girls gets the opportunity to play at college, so I think it is great,” Westbrook said. “She should have a bright future up there.”
The coach said she had the talent to play at the college level and won’t have trouble switching for pitcher to catcher.
“Jessica has a good arm, quick hands, she can handle it,” Westbrook said. “I expect she’ll get the chance to pitch a little and play in the field as well. She’s very versatile. She’ll hit well in college because she has strong wrists. She can hit for power.”
Westbrook said he was more concerned about her adapting to the Kansas weather than anything. “She’s a very cold-natured girl, if she can adjust to the weather she will be all right,” Westbrook said. “She’ll be motivated and will get involved. I don’t believe she will have a problem being homesick. But it does get chilly up there.”
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