Joe Medley: Reason to smile? Wellborn's Butcher got her turn at bat
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
May 16, 2013 | 8595 views |  0 comments | 104 104 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wellborn's Megan Butcher (4)hasn't gotten to play a lot this season, but he got into a state tournament game Thursday and delivered a hit. (Photo by Trent Penny/Anniston Star)
Wellborn's Megan Butcher (4)hasn't gotten to play a lot this season, but he got into a state tournament game Thursday and delivered a hit. (Photo by Trent Penny/Anniston Star)
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MONTGOMERY — The best thing in Thursday’s opening day of the state softball tournament happened with little fanfare. It’s recorded wrong in AHSAA.com’s official pitch-by-pitch account.

“Now batting: (8) #21 Tymeria Mackey,” the entry says of Wellborn’s leadoff hitter in the top of the fifth inning against Lexington. Two entries later, “Mackey hits a single.”

The batter was actually a pinch-hitter named Megan Butcher. Those who know her story are no doubt delighted the little-used senior in her first year of softball got her moment on the state’s biggest stage, as Wellborn was making its first state-tourney appearance in softball since 2001.

Bet on it that her late father smiled through tears in Heaven, knowing how much his daughter and son Matthew cared for him in his final days.

Bet on it that Wellborn principal Rick Carter smiled from just behind the dugout. His family took Butcher in, after her dad died.

While Megan’s moment was short — Mackey re-entered the game as her pinch-runner — it was bigger than the elimination game Wellborn was playing. A young lady who spent much of this cathartic season giving her heart to the team got to give something with a bat in her hands, and she delivered on sacred dirt.

“We play to win, but what we do is more about life,” Wellborn coach Brenda Vinson said. “Through the adversities of facing two- and three-hour practices in the heat and games, the pressure situations, it makes us better people.”

Butcher knows even greater adversity. Not many teens have been caregivers for a dying parent, but her dad had heart and other health problems.

“He had lung problems,” Megan said. “He had strokes, which caused aneurysms.

“The last time he was in the hospital, he had a stroke, and it caused an aneurysm, and then it just went downhill from there.”

For much of the last six months of her dad’s life, she and her brother took care of him. The rigors of caregiving impacted her schoolwork for a time, Carter said, and that was before things reached their direst point.

“That last week, me and Matthew would switch out sleeping on a schedule,” Megan said. “I’d sleep, and he’d watch him. He’d sleep, and I’d watch him.

“The last time, I was sleeping, and Matthew was watching him, and he woke up just screaming. That was the last time.”

Curtis Ray Butcher died Feb. 2, 2012, after what Megan said was a quicker-than-expected health decline.

His death meant that Megan and Matthew, 16, needed a home. Matthew now lives with their older sister in Georgia, but Megan was closer to graduation and saw a better option.

Carter knew Megan’s father well. Over the course of a couple of years, the two had frank conversations.

“He kind of felt that his health was declining,” Carter said. “It was in early August, before he passed away, that he asked if I would just make sure, as her principal, that she graduates.”

Carter and his wife Shannon began to consider a bigger picture than Megan’s graduation.

“Here’s a young girl that needs a home, needs a family and needs somebody to step in and, not replace her father, but finish out being a father for her, just to get her through high school,” Carter said. “Shannon and I, over the next couple of days, prayed about it hard.

“It was just one of those things. It was the right thing to do.”

Megan has lived with the Carters since about a week after her dad died. She instantly became one of three girls, joining Helen Grace, now 8, and Katelyn Marie, now 4. Sarah Jo joined the world as their baby sister five weeks ago.

With the restoration of relative normalcy at home, Megan’s schoolwork came back up to her considerable capabilities, Rick Carter said. She has also picked up extra-curricular activities, including dance line.

Softball moved onto her agenda nearly a year ago.

“During the summer, I went to a softball game with momma and the girls,” she said. “I watched them. I watched Coach Vinson. I watched Taylor Champion. I watched all of them play, and it made me want to play.

“They had so much fun, and it’s very exciting, so I tried out.”

Wellborn’s program was at a pivotal point in the program, with Vinson building for the future. She was preparing to assemble a team that would rely on one senior, one junior and six eighth-graders in the starting lineup.

Rick Carter said he made sure Vinson felt no pressure to give Megan a spot on the team. Vinson, like her boss, saw a bigger picture.

It didn’t involve Megan playing much. Other players were more developed, so Megan has gotten into only a handful of games all season.

But a team with one other senior could use leadership help. While senior first baseman Shae Coley has been an on-field leader, Megan has been a dugout leader.

“She brings enthusiasm,” Vinson said. “She’s got a great work ethic. She doesn’t give up. She’s been great for the team.”

Megan said she didn’t know how go to about being a team leader at first, but it came with time. So did the chemistry that helped a young team win 22 games, survive the North Central Regional and make it to Montgomery.

“We’ve grown together, and our hearts have intertwined together, and it’s been awesome,” she said. “I love it. Watching the girls go out there and play their hearts out and just knowing that I can be there to cheer them on, it’s awesome.”

Megan did more than cheer Thursday. With Wellborn’s elimination game still scoreless in the top of the fifth inning, Vinson opted for a pinch-hitter.

“I was shocked,” Megan said. “When she told me I was going in, I said, ‘Me?’ I started dry swinging in the dugout, and I was nervous. Very nervous.”

Mackey then trotted out of the dugout as a pinch-runner, and Megan trotted back in. Mackey wound up being forced out on a fielder’s choice.

Lexington scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and went on to win 2-0.

With the season now over, Megan eyes graduation. Rick Carter said he very much looks forward to handing Megan a diploma.

In the coming months, she plans to commute to Gadsden State with an eye toward joining a profession for which she’s already served an internship, of sorts. She wants to be a travel nurse.

Wherever she travels, she said she’ll always feel close to her teammates and, of course, the Carters.

“My mom and dad now have just picked me up,” she said, holding back tears. “They are, like, my foundation and God-sends, definitely.

“They’re a Christian-based family, and they brought me into that, and it’s been great since the beginning.”

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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