If you’ve ever been around Virginia Glory founder and coach Suzy Willemssen, you know how she is a bundle of energy, enthusiasm and positivity—one of those people you can’t help but smile when you’re in their presence.
Part of these efforts included hosting the Glory Strikeout Cancer Invitational with all net proceeds from the tournament used to help children in their battle to beat cancer.
We caught up with Suzy recently and she shared a sweet story that we felt we had to share, which just goes to show you never know what can happen at the softball fields… and what kind of friends you might just make there!
Here is that story in her words…
This is story about the people you can meet along the way in your softball journey.
The competition and play that goes on between the lines in softball is great, but it's the relationships and those that touch your heart that are the most important things you can get from the game.
I am hoping anyone reading this story will think of those individuals in their life and that would bring a smile, a cherished memory, a moment of joy.
In 2007, I was coaching the Blue Jays (Virginia Glory would start in 2011) and even though I didn't have a child on the team, I still continued to coach—even after my youngest daughter, Christine, was born. At that time, she was three-years-old and had become a fixture on the tourney trail ever since she was a newborn.
It was a crisp, fall Sunday morning and as I was watching other teams play while waiting between our games, a familiar face with a scruffy, reddish beard approached me. It was Bill Per-Lee, the famous figure at all the area softball games who always wore the baseball cap of teams he liked to follow.
“Mr. Bill” was—and is—the sage of softball in the country, at least in our corner of the world. His knowledge of the game is unmatched and when he was at your game, you had made the grade! He was known for being such a wonderful and interesting person, genuine and kind—a true icon. I know each team/softball group out there has a "Mr. Bill.” Or hope they do.
At that time, we had never really spoken but had traded many a smile and simple hellos over the years.
"Where's the little one?" he asked this day as he put his hand about knee high.
I joked and said something like, "She needed to stay at home and watch the adults for me!”
We chuckled and then he said, “Oh, I was so looking forward to seeing her today because I have something for her."
Bill proceeded to reach into his backpack and pulled out a beautiful book.
“This is one of my favorites,” he began. “I love it so much because it's one of the few stories that has a strong female character as the lead. I'd read it to my daughters."
He lovingly told about reading it to his girls and you could tell how important it was for him to share this cherished story. As I stood there admiring the book, I asked him if he would please sign it.
He emphatically said, "No, no... I just wanted her to have it.”
I said I understood but answered that what he gave my daughter was much more than the book, he gave her a wonderful lesson on what it means to give and expect nothing in return.
I wanted him to sign the book so his beautiful gesture would be forever inscribed, for his gift was truly an eternal example of kindness and thinking of others.
“Christina,” he wrote, “I hope to see you at another softball game." And he signed his name.
I will never forget that day, the everlasting gift Bill gave my daughter… and for that matter to me. He started following our team as Christina got older—he always calls her “9's” as her jersey number was 99.
Three years ago, when we went to 12U Pony Nationals in July of 2017, we took a team photo and insisted that Mr. Bill be in it. You can tell he wasn’t overly thrilled to be in the photo but he did it for me.
Shortly after, I told our team and their parents that this was Mr. Bill, the wonderful man from the story I had shared with them about the cherished book. His story has become one of my favorites to tell in regards to how we can get more out of the sport than just what happens between the lines.
Today, Bill still shows up for games… he’s become a good friend and one of our team's biggest fans.
It makes me stop to think of where we are in these wild and uncertain times… in softball, yes, but on the bigger scale too.
There is the joy of competing, the thrill and challenge of seeing how good we can get as individuals and as a team, and the excitement of winning (and the hurt that comes from losing). These are wonderful reasons for playing the game and a lot can be gained from the experiences.
However, I believe it's the relationships that are established, the people you meet during the journey and the lessons learned from all of it that are the most important.
The great thing is you'll never know in life when you'll be touched or by whom, as I learned from the sweet gift given from a softball friend who simply wanted my daughter to have a book featuring a strong female role model.
--- Suzy Willemssen, Glory Fastpitch Softball