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In chase for record, Northeastern State’s Maddie Boyd keeps swinging

Northeastern State softball standout Maddie Boyd was on the verge of a record-setting senior season when she became pregnant. Now she hopes to show her daughter, Nevi, the power of persistence. Submitted by Maddie Boyd

The little girl clutched a hairbrush with both hands and cocked it back over one shoulder, her eyes settled on her father a few feet away and the pair of wadded socks he held in place of a ball. She was too young and too small to swing a real bat at a real softball, as she had seen her older sisters do at the fields in their hometown of Chelsea, Oklahoma. But even at 3 years old, Maddie Boyd wanted to play. In a few years, she’d don a helmet and swing for the fences, and eventually, she’d hit so many softballs that she’d send her name soaring toward record books. Before those days would come, though, her father’s hairbrush-and-socks version of batting practice nurtured Boyd’s interest in the game. It would grow into a long, lasting love.

At 5, Boyd joined a youth team in Chelsea. Soon after, she moved on to travel teams in Tulsa. She missed her friends’ birthday parties and summer gatherings at the lake. Softball always came first. In high school, she blossomed into a skilled hitter and second baseman who attracted attention from college coaches. She yearned to keep playing and realized her softball days didn’t have to end with high school graduation.

She chose Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, about an hour and a half from home. She earned the starting spot at second base and became the team’s leader at bat. Her freshman season passed, then her sophomore, then her junior, and by the time she approached her senior season, she carried a 3.1 GPA, was on track for a degree in psychology and was on the cusp of becoming the first softball player in school history to join the 200-hits club. Everything was going according to plan.

Then life threw a curveball.

A couple of months before the start of her senior season, Boyd learned she was pregnant. Fear, shock and uncertainty flooded in. She was painfully close to ending her college career as she had dreamed, her name etched in the record book, her diploma in hand. But in those moments, she questioned whether those dreams were still attainable. Her priorities were forced to shift; it was time to focus on a new little girl.

Softball, for once, would have to wait.

***

Clay Davis remembers getting the call in December, just before winter break. Boyd, one of his captains, wanted to talk. They met in the RiverHawks locker room, where the senior softball player shared her news. She was due in July. 

For a few moments, the two sat in silence as Davis processed the words. As a coach, he cared deeply for all his players, but Boyd always had been special. She was the first player in the batting cage in the morning, the last one to leave at night. He remembers the first time he saw her play, before he joined the Northeastern State coaching staff, when he was the coach of an Oklahoma high school team that competed against Boyd’s. His team had an elite pitcher who gave nearly every player trouble, but Boyd was the rare batter who could handle her. Davis remembered that hitting prowess when he became the coach of the RiverHawks the next year; he wanted Boyd on his team.

The news of her pregnancy didn’t change that. Boyd was a part of their softball family, and they weren’t going anywhere. 

“We’re going to be here for you,” Davis told her, “whether that means you ever play softball again or not.”

We’re going to support you. We’re going to love you. We’re going to make sure you have everything you need to be prepared, the coach explained. “We’ll cross the softball platform when it gets closer.”

It was just what Boyd needed to hear. “I was thinking at that point I was done because I didn’t really think he would want me to come back after having a child,” she says. “I thought he would just give up on me, and he definitely didn’t.”

Throughout the spring, Boyd watched her team’s practices and traveled to games until sitting on a bus became too uncomfortable. Then, on July 28, 2017, she gave birth to a baby girl. She named her Nevi.

Immediately, Boyd’s support system swooped in. Her parents, John and Angie, stayed in her apartment in Tahlequah as she adjusted to life as a new mom. Her three older sisters visited often. Her teammates popped in to babysit when Boyd needed to study. Nevi’s father and his family also cared for Nevi often.  

Even as she juggled the exhausting responsibilities of motherhood with her schoolwork — she was determined to graduate in May — Boyd felt a familiar tug pulling her back to softball. She battled worries that holding on to that dream was selfish now. But at the same time, she hoped it would be an example her daughter would someday follow.

“I know she’s too young to understand it now, but I wanted to show her if you love something and you’ve worked hard for it, don’t give up on it just because things get tough,” Boyd says. “She kind of motivated me to try and see if I could come back.”

Boyd recovered for six weeks after Nevi’s birth, then began her return to physical activity. “I could tell before I even started practicing again that it was going to be a lot more difficult to get back in shape,” she recalls. Her body had changed, and suddenly things weren’t coming as naturally on the field. The slow process tested Boyd’s patience.

Still, she worked her way back into the starting lineup for the start of her fifth season. Boyd was just 31 hits shy from becoming the first Riverhawks player to join the career 200-hits club when, in the second weekend of the season, she received another curveball.

Playing second base in a tournament at Oklahoma Christian, a hitter bunted, and Boyd rotated to cover first base. Her teammate fielded the bunt and threw it to Boyd, who reached out to catch it just as the runner collided with her, jamming her arm backward. Boyd fell to the turf in agony.

“Her left arm was going in three different ways it shouldn’t,” Davis says. “It was one of the most grotesque things I had ever seen as a coach in my 20 years. My heart just sank for her.”

She had broken her wrist in two places and dislocated her elbow. The injury would require surgery, and she’d miss the rest of the season. Surely, Boyd thought in devastation, this was the end of her softball career. She assumed she had exhausted her college eligibility.

But then she learned that, given her circumstances, she could come back for a sixth year. Boyd asked her coach to get the paperwork started, telling him: “I didn’t come all this way not to finish.”

***

After giving birth and overcoming an injury, Boyd is determined to end her softball career on her terms. She began her final season well-poised to become Northeastern State’s career hits leader. Northeastern State photo

This season, Boyd is ready to end her softball career on her terms. She graduated in spring 2018 with a degree in psychology and is taking two additional semesters of classes related to her health and human performance minor.

But more than any lessons she learns in the classroom, she continues to learn new things about being a mom. “It’s a whole new world,” Boyd says.

Nevi has become a natural addition to the RiverHawks softball family. She watches from the stands at games with Boyd’s parents, dressed in Northeastern State’s green and white. She bounces around at team meetings in the locker room. Davis jokes that Nevi has helped put down winter ryegrass on the field and pull the tarp at 7 a.m. before practices. Of the first five or six words the toddler learned, one of them was “ball.”

“We preach family here, and if I’m going to preach it, then we need to live it,” Davis says. “Nevi is always welcome in our locker room.”

Boyd’s goals for this season, of course, include meeting that 200-hit mark once and for all. But she also wants to give back in other ways to the team that has given her so much. “My main goal is to be a leader and push not only myself but my team, as well,” she says.

Davis knows Boyd already has given them more than enough. “She’s one that we’ll be telling stories about for a long time,” he says. “She’s going to leave here all over our record books at NSU. But the impact she’s made outside of just the athletic side — the perseverance and the grit. … Those are things I can’t teach.”

For Boyd, that perseverance and grit can be traced back to those early days swinging a hairbrush at wadded socks, when the seeds for a passion were planted, even when they were too big for her.

Says Boyd: “I think you should just never give up on what you love.”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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