Peyton Neisler struggled through a long first inning.
The Eastern Hancock pitcher was getting ambushed by a streaking Frankton squad.
Before last week’s game against Eastern Hancock, the Class 2A No. 11 Eagles soared to four-straight wins, and they didn’t slow down for Neisler and the Royals.
An early rampage resulted in five first-inning runs for the Eagles that buried the Royals in a hole out of which they could not climb. Eastern Hancock dropped the game 7-4.
Story continues below gallery
There was, however, a silver lining.
Neisler finished the game.
She pitched the next five innings, allowing just two more runs against the surging Frankton offense.
Neisler persevered that day because she had to. Royals ace Darby Shaw was on the shelf with pneumonia, and no other Royal had thrown more than two innings this season.
Her team needed her, and Neisler did not back down. She was challenged but not overwhelmed. She was exhausted but not going to give in.
The senior maintained her composure through the game against the Eagles, and then through two back-to-back victories in which she gave up just one earned run. Against challenging circumstances, Neisler settled in and stood tall for the people who were counting on her.
That’s become sort of a pattern with her, both on and off the field.
A few days later, Aliyah Christine Butler watches the Royals’ home game against Centerville. As always, she sits near the third-base dugout, giggling and waiting with her family for Neisler. She is both Neisler’s biggest and littlest fan.
When Neisler finally wraps up her duties, she walks through the gates and Aliyah greets her with a heart-warming smile.
This is the moment Neisler has been waiting for all day.
From now until 7:30 a.m. the following morning, Aliyah, Neisler’s nearly 7-month-old daughter, is all hers.
At 17 years old, Neisler is a teen mom.
It wasn’t the path she has planned, and it hasn’t been easy. But, holding that little bundle of joy in her arms, Neisler couldn’t be happier.
“My favorite thing to do with her is everything,” Neisler said. “I love to give her baths, because she’s my aqua baby … I love buying her new things. I just love being a mom.”
She’s good at it, too.
Peyton’s mom, Christy Neisler, said during Peyton’s pregnancy, she was more worried about Peyton’s future than whether or not she would be a good mom.
Christy knew that had been decided a long time ago.
Girls on her travel softball team used to call her Mama P.
Peyton Neisler was the team’s den mom. She would not eat until she knew every one of her teammates had enough food. She also made sure their clothes were washed and helped guide the younger players.
At home, too, Peyton fit easily into parental roles. When her mother’s job took her to out-of-town conferences, a 10-year-old Peyton stepped in to fill the void.
She cooked dinner for her family, usually spaghetti or grilled cheese, did laundry and woke up her brothers for school. As a young girl, when she played house with her cousin, Peyton insisted on being the mother.
“I have wanted to be a mom my whole life,” she said.
But Peyton had other dreams, too.
She wanted to be a doctor. She wanted to earn four high school varsity letters in both basketball and softball. She wanted to be a kid.
But that last expectation went by the wayside about a year and a half ago when she made an adult decision and was forced to face its consequences.
She was pregnant, and she and longtime friend Chris Butler, a Eastern Hancock 2014 graduate whom she had recently started dating, were going to be parents.
Peyton found out near the end of basketball season. She visited her doctor and learned she was seven weeks in.
The scariest part wasn’t whether the pregnancy would derail her education, it wasn’t what this would do to her relationship with Butler, it wasn’t even what her friends would think, Peyton said.
“The hardest part was telling my mom,” she said.
Most parents would be scared for their daughter, and Christy Neisler was no exception. But she also owned a unique perspective from which to draw her fear.
She, too, was a teen mom. Christy and her husband, Marty, had their first child while close to Peyton’s age. They had endured the trials of young parenthood and repeatedly pleaded with Peyton to be careful to avoid a similar fate.
“She was always the person who said, ‘Please be careful,’” Peyton said. “‘I’ve been through it. Please don’t do it. It’s so hard. You don’t want you to do it.
“But I did, and I was so sad. I thought I had disappointed her.”
Christy was certainly disappointed, but she was more heartbroken that her daughter would now face prom, college choices and normal, everyday teen life with a less carefree perspective.
“Obviously as parents, you’re devastated, because you want so much for your kids,” she said. “All of those milestones that you reach as a teen or young adult, we wanted her to do them and to do them without worry. This changed all that.”
Lots of Questions
Before long, many at Eastern Hancock knew, and a hailstorm of questions began.
“Are you going to keep it?”
“Will you drop out of high school?”
“Are you and Chris going to get married?”
Peyton never wavered in her answer to their questions. She talked with her parents, briefly, about options, but never doubted that she would keep Aliyah and figure out the rest.
A few hurled more than just questions at her. There were accusations. Petty jabs. Some of her friends began to distance themselves, and someone close to Peyton publicly condemned her behavior.
“When that happened, it crushed the life out of her,” Christy said. “She began to think that was the way everyone was going to react when she got back from summer break. She knew she’d be showing by then.”
Peyton underestimated Eastern Hancock.
When she returned for her senior year of high school, she was eight months’ pregnant, but that didn’t stop her from graduating.
Peyton expected people to look at her different, and some did. Their stares made her feel like she “didn’t have a face, only a belly.”
However, most of the community rallied around her.
When Peyton had to miss school for doctor’s visits and to take care of Aliyah, a student in her government class offered to help her with the coursework for the days she was absent. Her teachers let her work from home and take tests outside of class.
Her guidance counselor encouraged Peyton to take vocational classes in the mornings at a local hospital to start gaining experience in the medical field, a career path Peyton hopes to follow in college.
“In my opinion, there is that typical small-town stereotype that will judge and throw you out,” said Sue Anderson, Royals’ softball head coach.
“That’s not been the case. It says a lot about Peyton’s character and a lot about her drive and determination to be a good mom, a good student and a good athlete.”
Peyton didn’t expect the support she received from the Eastern Hancock community. Nor did she need it.
Soon after she found out she was pregnant, though scared, she resolved not to let the important pieces of her life vanish. She would finish high school, go to college, date Chris and play softball.
It became clear to her that she had to do all those things, not just for herself, for Aliyah.
“Having Aliyah drives me to be better,” Peyton said.
“I can show her that when things get hard, you can’t give up. That’s what I want her to know. I want her to be proud of me, to know that even though I was a high school mom I didn’t give up on my dreams.”
Name: Peyton Neisler
School: Eastern Hancock
Family: Christy and Marty Neisler (parents); Christopher and Cameron (brothers); Aliyah Butler (daughter).
Positions: Pitcher, infielder
Jersey Number: 44
Future plans: Attend IUPUI to secure nursing degree