NEW PALESTINE — Young Cara Steele walked over to the members of the New Palestine High School softball team on Wednesday and started giving the players high-fives.
Dressed in her own bright yellow softball uniform, from team Arizona, the New Palestine Youth Softball League player was in awe of the high schoolers, who will be playing for a state title on Saturday afternoon.
“Good luck,” the 7-year-old said.
The Dragons (30-2) will take on Kankakee Valley (22-8) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, on a neutral field, at Ben Davis High School for the Class 3A state championship.
Story continues below gallery
Cara and other young softball players had the chance to meet some of their idols and get an autographed photo from the top-ranked Dragons when the team held a special practice session at the youth field.
Ed Marcum, the Dragons head coach, loved seeing his players go back to where it all began for them years ago, and to give thanks to the community for all the support they’ve shown the team this season.
“Most all of our girls started on these fields,” Marcum said. “It’s great for the younger kids and our community to have this kind of fun opportunity.”
Bringing his varsity players back to the youth field for a practice and interaction with the younger kids is something his current players recalled Marcum doing when they played in the league as kids, back during the Dragon’s last state championship run in 2009.
The opportunity generates interest in the program and gives young fans a chance to meet and watch high school players who are at the top of their game.
Madison Whitaker, the starting left fielder for the Dragons, got a kick out of watching the younger girls wrap up their game and then interact with her teammates.
“We were out there not too long ago doing what they were doing and now look at us, we’re getting ready to play for a state championship,” Whitaker said.
All the Dragon players love the game now just as much as they did when they were little, the graduated senior said.
As for the state title game, Marcum said his players are loose and ready for the challenge, although he knows it will not be easy. Kankakee Valley played in the title game last year and finished as state runner-up.
That experience is something the Dragons don’t have and will need to overcome.
“They know what it’s like to be there and play with the pressure involved in a state title game,” Marcum said. “We know about pressure, but this will be a completely different deal.”
Still, his team has handled adversity before Marcum said, and he knows they will be ready to rise and handle it again.
His players agree.
“To finally get the chance to play for a state title is something we’ve worked for,” Whitaker said. “We’re ready for it.”
No doubt their fans will be, too. Russ Steele, Cara’s father will be at the state title game with Cara cheering the Dragons on as soon as Cara’s game is over.
The young outfielder has a 1 p.m. game on the youth field Saturday, but she and her dad are heading straight to the state title game as soon as Cara’s game finishes.
“These little girls really look up to the high school players, and Cara is fully aware where we are going Saturday afternoon,” Steele said with a smile.