The Baylor softball players live in a comfortable world at a private university with beautiful surroundings, and play in one of the best stadiums in the nation.
But coach Glenn Moore likes to take his teams out of their comfort zone on mission trips to spread their Christian faith and show children how to play softball in places in the world where people are less fortunate.
Their latest trip was to Ghana over the Christmas holidays, a 10-day excursion where the Baylor softball party went to impoverished cities and villages in the African nation.
“It’s dirty, dusty and people in need, but also people with big hearts that are very happy,” Moore said. “We learned a lot from serving them, and they filled some things for us as well. It gives our kids an opportunity to see life outside our borders in an area where people have so little, and you see what people are really like.”
It was the softball team’s second mission trip to Ghana following their first trip in 2015. Ten players made the trip along with Moore and associate head coach Mark Lumley and their families, Ben Johnson of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and several others.
For senior infielder Caitlin Charlton, the experience never grows old. She was happy to make her second trip to Ghana after seeing how vibrantly the children responded on the team’s first trip two years ago.
“I went to Ghana two years ago with the team and I got the opportunity to go again, and it was honestly the best experience I could ever ask for,” Charlton said. “It was even more incredible the second time around. Just building relationships with the kids and with coaches I met last time was something I’ll never forget.”
The Baylor party flew to Accra, the capital city of Ghana, before spending most of their trip three hours away in Kumasi. Softball isn’t widely played in Ghana, so the fundamentals of the game were new to most of the children.
“Softball is not a sport that kids in Ghana know, so it’s really cool just to teach something fresh and completely new,” Charlton said. “Even with language barriers, it’s incredible to see how fast the kids catch on just being able to learn something new, something that they really cherish.”
Making her first trip to Ghana, Baylor freshman catcher Ashley Marchand was impressed how willing the children at the camps were to learn softball from the Lady Bears’ skilled players.
“The children were incredible,” Marchand said. “They’re so grateful, they listen. They touched my heart just as much as I hope I touched their hearts. Just to see some of them show up with no shoes, some of them showed up in the same clothes every day, but still have a smile on their face and still have so much happiness within them, it really changes your perspective on life.”
Moore said the children at the camp range from ages 3 to 20, and all are willing to walk miles from their homes just to have a chance to learn softball from the Baylor squad.
“It’s kind of like a drug whenever you go through the villages and you see so many people in need and you realize what we have, and you have an opportunity to give them something,” Moore said. “And it’s not materialistic. We take some things to them, and they’re appreciative and crazy about getting a ball or a book.
“But it’s just the love to be quite honest with you. It’s the kids that just appreciate you coming and caring about them. And it’s not even about softball, it’s just about the human nature of caring for your brothers and sisters.”
Moore said many children in Ghana have already been exposed to Christianity, but the camp also gives others to learn about it for the first time.
“It’s really not about softball,” Moore said. “That’s just our vehicle to spread the gospel. As the Bible says, ‘Go into the world and teach all nations.’ We have the ability to do that. As a leader of this program, I have the ability to provide this opportunity for them.”
The mission trip also serves as an opportunity for the softball team to bond as they prepare for the start of the 2018 season in February. Though Baylor has a core of players back from last year’s Women’s College World Series team, there are eight new players on the squad.
“We got to know everyone on the team,” Marchand said. “We got to know Coach Moore and his family a little more, Coach Lumley and his family a little more, and it was just a great entry into Baylor softball. Team chemistry is one of the most important things in softball, and I think this just adds another element to Baylor softball that makes us different from almost every other program out there.”
Five freshmen made the mission trip, including Marchand, outfielder Hannah Smith, catcher Hannah Thompson, pitcher Lexi Koltz, and outfielder Alyssa Avalos. They were joined by Charlton, outfielder Maddison Kettler, outfielder Madi O’Neal, infielder Taylor Ellis, and outfielder Kyla Walker.
“The previous trip (to Ghana), I don’t think we had a freshman attend,” Moore said. “This one, all of our freshmen were there. It’s an education you can’t get in a textbook or a classroom. You smell the smells, you see the people, you talk to the people, sometimes through a translator, sometimes through broken English. You get to hold their hand and see what they’re really like.”
The Lady Bears are hoping to follow up last year’s World Series appearance with another one, and in some ways the mission trip was a way to kick off the season.
“I think team chemistry is one of the biggest components that you can have,” Charlton said. “After this trip, I think we’ve grown so much closer. Even with girls that haven’t gone, just being able to share in prayer and preparing for the trip has really been a team bonding experience.”