INDIANAPOLIS — The whirlwind was more than New Palestine’s Elisha Barker could imagine.

Refusing to dust herself off after being engulfed by her teammates at the bottom of an on-field celebratory dogpile, Barker’s emotions stretched ear to ear after the Class 3A Dragons defeated Kankakee Valley 13-6 to win the program’s first softball state title in eight years.

Her joy was immeasurable as the senior hugged the championship trophy in her arms. Her humility overflowed when several New Palestine youth softball players sought her out for photos and autographs, a request she freely accommodated with a smile.

The passing of the generational torch, Barker hoped — a subtle act of kindness she witnessed as a kid when her heroes of 2009 did the same.

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Nothing could heighten the moment, until her name was called out as the IHSAA’s Class 3A Mental Attitude Award winner.

Barker became the third New Palestine softball player to receive the award — Alyssa (Marcum) Dillard was the first in 2008 — and the first since the Dragons’ back-to-back state championship run from 2008-09.

“It’s a huge thank-you. I’m happy I could win it for my school. I’m thankful they allowed me to be chosen, and I thank God for all of his blessings at work that he’s allowed me to do it,” Barker said.

The last Dragon to earn the honor was former standout pitcher Sara Evans in 2009, who fittingly was in attendance and one of the first to congratulate Barker, along with Dillard and her sister Michelle (Marcum) Hokl.

“It was like watching our little sister get to accomplish what she’s watched us do,” said Hokl, a New Palestine assistant coach. “We’re so proud of her.”

The award is presented to a player in recognition of character, athletic achievement and most notably their actions off the field. Barker fit the criteria perfectly.

Named an Indiana Softball All-Star, first-team Academic All-State and finishing her career with a 57-8 record, Barker received the Presidential Scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she will continue playing in college.

Eight years ago, however, her career nearly ended before it began.

“She had two amazing mentors in Sara Evans and Michelle (Marcum) Hokl. Those are the two young ladies that helped her get through because she almost hung up the cleats when she was 10,” Elisha’s father Greg Barker said. “Those two girls helped her push through.”

Elisha trained with Evans and Hokl since she was 8, working to become the best pitcher, hitter and person possible.

When she wasn’t at practice, she put in countless bullpen and hitting sessions in her family’s basement where a pitching and batting cage lane was installed.

In the community, Barker volunteered for Cancer Care at Riley Children’s Hospital, Seedline Ministry for China boarder soldiers and was part of several reading programs with elementary schools in her area.

She was a youth pitching instructor and excelled in the classroom with a 4.2 GPA while a part of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society and Dragon Leadership Program as a mentor to elementary students.

“She’s such a great kid. She’s so smart and she’s willing to give back. She has strong moral character. She’s someone I want the kids to look up to,” New Palestine head coach Ed Marcum said. “Her demeanor and how she acts on and off the field is amazing. She’s certainly deserving of the award.”

And she does it all naturally.

“It’s something that we really stressed with her, but it’s really something she’s stressed herself. It’s not just the player you are on the field, it’s what you do off the field,” Elisha’s mother Lynn Barker said. “I think one of the brightest things for her were the youth players wanting a picture and an autograph. If she can be a role model to them, then we can’t ask for anything more.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.