Two Baker University students refuse to give up their love for sports.
Junior Erin Blackburn first fell in love with softball at age 10 and has nurtured the relationship by becoming Baker's softball team manager. Another tale, equally as satisfying, includes sophomore Libby Steele and her path to becoming the Baker tennis team manager.
These women provide a presence for the team that invokes spirit and a sense of pride to those athletes who bear the Baker emblem.
Blackburn grew up in Garden City and first took a swipe at the ball when it was still on a tee. She played tournament after tournament up and through high school. Her team won the state championship the summer before her senior year with her catching behind the plate.
Nevertheless, it was downhill from there, and she felt the competitive edge slip.
"I got burnt out playing in my senior year (of high school)," Blackburn said. "But I've never really left the ball field."
Her first year she did the stats for the team that were sent to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics as the official bookkeeping. She continued to do this while also taking on more responsibility.
Players in need of ibuprofen, snacks or positive reinforcement know where to find it.
"I try to make it my job to bring anything the girls might need," she said.
Head coach Jennifer Rigdon said she is grateful for the work Blackburn has put forth.
"She's very unique and very intelligent," Rigdon said. "She's always telling stories and is always positive."
The experience Blackburn has collected does not go unnoticed by the coaching staff.
"She's put in a professional role, and she's definitely involved in our discussions from a coaching standpoint," Rigdon said.
Blackburn has her hand in many tasks, including coaching, keeping stats and field maintenance.
"She does all the tasks that no one else wants to do and does it with a smile," junior Alexis Pryor said. "She devotes as much time to it as we do. She's inspiring because she's there every day, but she doesn't get any of the glory."
In the summer, it is her turn to do the coaching, and she has coached softball teams ranging from U-12 to U-16 for the past three years. She said while she likes to coach, she is content with her position as team manager at Baker.
"Doing the book, it's cool because you hold the power of information," Blackburn said.
Seeing some action is not out of the question at practices.
"I've been hitting ground balls, and I bring my glove to every practice," she said. "I play just enough so I'm happy."
A glare and heroic Colorado Rockies reference is sure to be returned to anyone mentioning support for the Kansas City Royals or their near .500 record.
Steele grew up in the opposite direction of Blackburn in Eureka, Mo. Steele played tennis through high school and looked to make a connection at Baker.
She persevered after a failed walk-on attempt and became the team manager.
"I love to get out on the court," Steele said. "I always like to play for fun, but these guys on the team play to win."
Steele's tasks include providing water for the players and recording scores during games.
Steele receives a stipend for her position just like Blackburn, but said a main incentive is the friendships she has developed.
"They are really inclusive," she said. "They make me feel like I'm a part of the team."
In fact, she was a part of the team when she traveled to Bethel College March 4 where she played two matches.
"It was just really good to be out on the court," Steele said. "I played doubles with Molly Flanigan, and we lost 4-6; so we held our own."
Senior Melissa Shank said Steele helps lighten up the mood for the team and keeps it fun.
"Her favorite song to sing on the court is 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Fire Away,' and she actually got hit once in the head by her teammate, and she continued to play," Shank said. "She is a very enjoyable person."