The senior-laden Westminster Christian softball team is full of leaders, but probably the greatest leadership has been provided by someone on the other side of the globe — in Afghanistan.
The Warriors, who won a regional final 11-0 against Lake Worth Trinity Christian on Friday to advance to the state tournament, have had an active member of the military support them all season. The emails have served as the prime source of motivation for the eight seniors to get past the round that has plagued them each of the past three seasons.
Westminster’s mantra this season, “On a Mission,” is inspired by what this man does for his country and relates to how the team approaches its journey to the state title.
Jon Maduro currently serves in a special operations unit with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, also known as the Army Rangers. He has been through several deployments in enemy territory in the past five years, including tours of Afghanistan where he has been stationed most of this year.
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He’s also a 2001 Westminster Christian alumnus who played football, baseball and basketball and was coached by current Westminster softball coach Scott Doan.
Unaware if Maduro could fit a project like this into his military schedule, Doan approached him with an email looking for some form of inspiration to spark his team. In return, he got much more than he expected.
Maduro could have shrugged off the task and pointed to the life-or-death situations he faces daily as a valid excuse, but being given an assignment from a former coach, he poured his soul into his messages, writing about leadership, sacrifice and what it means to be a Warrior.
“Coach Doan never does anything half way. When he does something, it’s full-out, and he expects perfection,” Maduro said. “Even though I was busy in Afghanistan, I had to make it a powerful message because that’s how Coach Doan approaches his team and his passion for it.”
In one email to the team, Maduro wrote he can’t compare softball and combat, but he relates to the girls with something they have in common.
“You and I are WARRIORS,” he writes. “Although our missions are different, there is only one approach to being a Warrior. A Warrior prepares for conflict with everything he has … To be the team you guys want to be, every practice has to be tougher than the game. Every ball you throw has to be with a purpose, every base you run is all-out because that is the way a Warrior plays.”
Maduro drew parallels between the softball team’s mission and what it took for him to earn his rank in the military.
“Even though you are tired, even though you are stressed with school, even though you have to miss that party, are you willing to do what is necessary? SACRIFICE!” he continues. “Both you and I have already missed out on fun occasions, dealt with higher levels of stress than our peers, and had to deal with being broken and tired. WHY NOT GO GET YOUR REWARD!?”
And that’s exactly what Westminster (26-3) will look to do as it comes down the final stretch, potentially two wins away from a state title.
The Warriors march into semifinals winners of 16 in a row and haven’t lost since connecting with Maduro.
“He’s been a real big influence to our team with the whole ‘On a Mission’ mantra,” says pitcher and 20-game winner Kelli Kleis. “For us it’s just a game. For him it’s life or death, but we can see it as the same thing in the playoffs.”
Maduro is currently in Miami on vacation through Monday. He met the girls for the first time at a recent practice and attended the Warriors’ 1-0 regional semifinal win over Marathon on Tuesday, when he got to throw out the first pitch.
“He loved throwing out that first pitch. He kept thanking me,” Doan said. “This is like a dream for him just to be a part of this group.”
Maduro then ended up throwing the first pitch on a much larger stage at the Braves-Marlins game Thursday night.
Regardless of what happens, Maduro and the girls have been able to take something from this experience. Maduro received some gratitude from having something to connect with back home.
“What I did for them was motivating for them, and seeing them truly buy into it was motivating me while I was over there, too,” he said.
He adds that he’s received feedback from parents who had their girls run home and show them what he wrote.
“For me to be able to use my experiences hopefully teaches them something that, not only they’re going to use this season, but hopefully about life,” he said. “For them to buy into that, it means so much.”
Now it’s time for the Warriors to complete that mission.
Like Kleis said after a key midseason win over Coral Reef, “We’re going to go accomplish that mission, get that ring.”