VALPARAISO | Abbey Thomas goes through a mental list of everything she needs before she takes the field as a member of the Valparaiso softball team.
The sophomore first baseman makes sure she has her glove, a bat and her uniform. The last piece of the puzzle – a giant bow in her hair – is always the same.
The bow is perhaps the only hint that the talented sophomore is also a member of the Valparaiso cheerleading team along with teammate Mimi Austin.
“Everyone sort of gives us a double take when they see us in our softball uniforms,” Thomas said. “I actually think we do a lot more conditioning and working out with cheerleading than we do softball.”
It’s not rare for high school students to be multi-sport athletes, but the combination of cheerleading, a sport which requires incredible trust and coordinating stunting, and softball, a game where players wear eye black and dive in the dirt, is certainly not the norm.
“With cheerleading, you like being a girl,” Austin said. “But you also like getting dirty as well. I think if there is a stereotype, it’s that we’re the loud and obnoxious ones.”
Valparaiso softball coach Tracy Corneil isn’t afraid to give some good-natured ribbing to her cheerleading softball players, but when the conversation turns serious, so does Corneil.
“They participate in a sport and they put in an incredible commitment to their athletic teams,” Corneil said. “There’s no question in the whole dynamic of cheerleading, you have to be an athlete. We have some fun with them. Neither of them is lacking in wanting to be vocal, but both (sports) are so mental and their approach is stronger because of that.”
The combination of softball and cheerleading isn’t anything new to the Thomas’ family. Abbey’s mother Lisa participated in both sports while at Merrillville.
“My parents are both very supportive of everything I do,” Thomas said. “They’ll come out to game and to competitions. My Dad is right there wearing his Valparaiso Cheerleading shirt.”
When asked what sport they’d participate in if only given one option, both Thomas and Austin smiled at one another before refusing to answer. Though they were unable to make a choice, both players were eager to list off the things they loved about each sport.
“We get people looking at us every once in a while saying ‘Oh, you play softball too,’” Austin said. “We don’t have to prove ourselves. We love doing both and we have a lot of fun doing it.”