In South Africa, Student-Athletes Serve and Compete
For most Assumption College athletes, collegiate competition concluded in May. However, for two members of the Assumption Greyhound’s softball team, the summer months provided a unique opportunity to play the sport they love in a different country while experiencing a foreign culture. Ashley Abad ’17, an elementary education major from Bedford, NH, and Ashley Clark ’17, a human services and rehabilitation studies major from Pawtucket, RI, were selected by an organization called Beyond Sports, to represent the United States in an All-Star softball tournament in Cape Town, South Africa, where they competed against South African softball teams as well as taught local children the rules and skills required to play the game.
The tour, sponsored by Beyond Sports, an international education and service-learning organization that uses sports as a vehicle for students to explore the world and create meaningful cross-cultural relationships, took place from June 19 through July 1 in Cape Town. Abad and Clark were among only 13 students chosen from across the country to play on the team and represent the United States. The organization reaches out to gifted athletes who have received All-Conference awards and have posted exemplary national statistics over the course of the season.
“I remember getting the email from my coach, and I couldn’t believe it when I first read it,” said Abad. “I was in shock but also extremely blessed to have an opportunity like this right in front of me, and knew there was no way I could pass it up. I felt like in that moment, all the hard work I put in over the years had finally paid off.”
Abad and Clark were the leading hitters for the Greyhounds this past season, and both played vital roles on the team. Abad led the team in batting average with a .411, while Clark ranked second on the team with a .347 average and led the team with 14 doubles.
“Both players helped contribute to our success this spring,” said Assumption Softball coach Katie Bettencourt. “Their athleticism and competitive nature make them a presence on the field, and they both have pure instincts for the game. They are leaders by example, and their drive to win and be successful is very rare.”
The American All-Stars played three games against South African softball teams, earning a 3-0 record.
While having the experience to play the sport she loves in South Africa, Abad’s favorite part of the trip had nothing to do with what happened on the diamond, but rather her experience off the field interacting with children living in abject poverty made the most difference. “A lot of the kids in South Africa don’t have much, and to see the kids as excited as they were at the clinic, and to put a smile on their face, was heartwarming and something I will never forget. I came back to America feeling like I made a difference in those kids’ lives,” she said.
Clark echoed her teammate’s sentiments. “The gratitude and appreciation the children who participated in the clinics showed us while we were helping them left me speechless, and I was able to realize how lucky I was to have the opportunity to play the game I love in college,” she added.
During the clinic, Abad and Clark taught the kids fielding techniques to help improve their fundamentals. They also enjoyed traveling to a preschool in Cape Town and having the opportunity to spend their time with the children.
But the kids weren’t the only ones who learned things on the trip. “After visiting Cape Town, I really learned a lot about myself,” said Clark, who added she also has learned to keep an open mind. “You don’t know how lucky you are until you walk in someone else’s shoes and realize all of the opportunities that we casually take advantage of. The trip was so eye-opening.”
Meanwhile, Abad credits her Assumption experience as a whole for allowing her to fully embrace this opportunity. “Having been at Assumption for three years now, I’ve learned to open myself up to trying different things, even if it’s something I wouldn’t normally do. The sense of freedom I’ve gained over the last few years made me feel really open to going on a trip like this, in order to try something new and life-changing,” she said.
The time spent in South Africa has left an impact on the student-athletes. “The individuals and locals of Cape Town took us under their wing and treated us like family. I’ve come to realize that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. On this trip, I made unbelievable friendships that will last a lifetime,” said Clark.
Abad is appreciative for the gifts the game of softball has given to her over the years—including this one–and described the trip as ‘memorable.’ “This trip gave me the opportunity to play a sport I love, give back to a game that I have fallen in love with, and learn more about a culture across the world,” she said. “Thanks to this trip, I have a different outlook on many things in life. Complete strangers turned into lifelong friends and Cape Town became a place that will always be in my heart.”
Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College