By Lexie Handley
Special to Portage Sports
Editor’s Note: Lexie Handley is a Mogadore native and professional softball pitcher who plays for the Texas Smoke and Japan’s Denso Bright Pegasus.
An Open Letter to You:
If you’re reading this, you most likely fall into one of the following categories: You are from Northeast Ohio, you love sports, you believe in the power of words.
If you’re like me, you may identify with more than one of those or all of them may resonate with you.
I didn’t realize the power of words until my senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, where I had Mrs. Anne Bickett for my AP English Literature class.
We wrote a lot.
English was never my strong suit. I didn’t care much about reading Shakespeare, and I was so close to graduation it was painful — seniorities was real.
In most classes, I scraped by with the minimum work necessary to keep at “A.”
Something about AP Lit, though, effort came without stress.
I felt as though “cruising through” wasn’t an option.
I knew where I was going to college, had signed for my scholarship to continue my softball career and, realistically, could have probably done the absolute minimum and settled.
My self-expectations were higher, though.
I never realized why — until I did.
Mrs. Bickett had a longstanding nickname of “MeeMaw” that she had earned throughout her career as an educator.
She loved what she did.
Her passion poured out in her classroom daily at 15 North Maple Street.
Mrs. Bickett’s words were convicting.
They were never harsh.
They were never contradicting.
They were never controlling or unrealistic.
They were never untruthful.
Mrs. Bickett spoke clearly. She spoke with love and authority, but also treated her students as adults and expected them to act as such.
We had weekly “Tuesdays with Bickett” seminars, where we would spend a great part of the class discussing real-life topics: Politics, religion, issues surrounding the school.
Nothing was off the table.
She loved hearing what was important to us.
We, as students, felt validated. Heard. Seen. Cherished for more than our ability to compile an essay.
So, why is this being featured in a sports publication?
Stay with me.
In my years as an athlete, ranging from little league to the professional level, I have had countless encounters with humans that have left me speechless.
Some in good ways and some in bad ways.
Some lit a fire under me. Some inspired me. Some were therapeutic. Some challenged my views. Some allowed me the space to grow.
The common denominator: All of these encounters were simply full of words.
Athletes, administrators, coaches and support systems have an incredible ability to use sport as an excuse to create conversation.
What we do with that “excuse,” however, can create unsealable wounds or can be cause for people to see from mountaintops. What people speak into the universe — into ears both young and old — is not just a reflection of the speaker’s heart, but, like sea glass on a beach shore, meanders in some way forever.
• Athletes: Speak with integrity. Be the wind in the sail, not the reason for a shipwreck.
Remember that competition can bring out the best and the worst in people, but no position on a team or in a record book is worth tearing down another human being. Life is full of too many challenges to not choose to band together when things are hard.
Think of the long list of people that have helped to get you to where you are today. The kindness they spoke, sincerity of their words.
Most importantly, speak to yourself in a way that makes the sun shine on you a little brighter. The words that you choose to hear of your own are more precious than rubies and hold more weight than what you will hear from other people. Positive self-talk is one of the most underutilized tools that we have.
I still catch myself in slumps, where I am tearing myself down!
It takes extra effort at times, but that small investment in the moment can repay many times over.
• Coaches and Administrators: You hold a unique power to help guide other humans in their pursuits. This is a tall task and one that can be challenging with all of your other real-life obligations. However, this added stressor is truly an honor. My challenge to you is to speak to your athletes in ways that you wish you would have had access to during trying times.
• Support Systems (parents, caregivers, siblings, friends): Athletes may need you in ways that they don’t ask for. Balancing who they are versus what they do is a challenging task to manage solo.
Impossible, in my opinion.
Use your words to help validate their frustrations and successes, but don’t shy away from reminding them of who they are at their core. That you don’t love them because of an athletic ability. You love them because they offer some sort of connection to you that makes you feel more complete.
I think all of us, regardless of status in sport, can learn from MeeMaw Bickett.
People matter more than work, more than a lesson plan, more than a record. As we enter into a new season of high-school athletics, let your words be filled with love.
Use them to rebuild, not create, barriers.
Your words matter.
With a full heart,
Lexie, your words speak of wisdom beyond your years. Sports matter, athletes hold a place in maturing matched by no other..It has been refreshing watching you from St. VM to your professional softball career with much pride also. Softball has always had a special place in my life. Coaching at StVM was a highlight in my career. My daughter playing D1 level was so pride filled. Your words about Mrs. Bickett are golden. I am privileged to call her colleague and friend. She was influenced thousands with her caring ways. Carry on dear Lexie, you are a very special young woman!
I wish the article said what position she plays.
She’s a LHP