WESTFIELD — Megan Choinacky was petrified.
With Darcie Huber lying on the infield dirt in intense pain, the Roncalli first baseman was close to tears herself.
She was the reason Huber, Choinacky’s travel softball teammate and “sister” was in anguish.
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Greenfield-Central’s Huber had collided with Choinacky while trying to beat out a bang-bang play at first during the Cougars softball team’s regional championship game against the Rebels.
While Choinacky came away from the crash unharmed, it looked like Huber would not be so lucky.
Choinacky paced nervously a few feet beyond the trainers, coaches and EMTs attending to Huber. She hugged Huber’s family.
At that moment, the fact that Choinacky, an all-state senior, was amid a fierce battle for the Rebels’ first regional crown since her freshman year meant next to nothing.
Huber’s well-being was all that mattered.
“Friends come first,” Choinacky said. “The game kind of gets put on the (back-burner).”
Twenty years ago a foe showing this level of concern for her adversary would have been improbable and bordering on unimaginable said Eastern Hancock softball coach Sue Anderson.
But that’s all changed now thanks to travel softball.
Its emergence as the sport’s preeminent method of earning a scholarship has had the unexpected benefit of creating a tight-knit community of coaches, parents and, most especially, players.
When Roncalli squared off with Greenfield-Central for the regional crown, Choinacky not only already knew who Huber was, but the pair had developed a deep bond after spending years playing with one another.
“Most of us grew up playing against each other,” said Choinacky whose Twitter profile picture is of her cradling Huber like a baby, with each wearing matching smiles as well as Indiana Magic Gold uniforms. “Playing travel, you play the same teams over and over again, and you get to know who they are. Over time, you sort of create that bond.”
Part of that bond comes from working in pursuit of the same goal, said Huber, who didn’t sustain any serious injuries after the collision.
And while most would think the competition to catch a recruiter’s eye might make them fierce rivals, sometimes that struggle has the opposite effect. It unifies them.
“These kids have the same dreams, the same passion,” said Anderson, who played travel ball for five years. “Almost all of them want to go to a Division I school and play softball. These kids spend so much time and money. They are invested. It’s nice, if you’re struggling, to be able to fall back on those friends and to have them motivate you and push you, help you get to where you want to go.”
That’s the way of the Indiana Magic Gold, Huber said. They are a family. Her Gold teammate, New Palestine’s Issy Hoyt, said it’s one of her favorite aspects of being part of the team.
Not only do the girls push each other to get better, Hoyt said, but they truly care about one another.
“It’s really awesome when you think about it,” Hoyt said of what happened between Choinacky and Huber. “We’re all really close, and we all care about each other. If it were some other girls, they might have just brushed it off, but because they knew each other, Megan felt really bad. She cared.”