By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Don't blame Melissa Curtis for dropping a few tears on Friday morning.
This wasn't just a signing ceremony for her daughter, Olivia Curtis, who signed with Mary Hardin Baylor in front of a large crowd of family, coaches and friends at Hubbard, where the room was decorated with balloons and pictures and memorabilia of Olivia's' brilliant career on the mound for the Lady Jaguars.
No, this was much more. This was a celebration.
Among the dozens of photos of Olivia, who started playing softball at 8 years old, was a purple back brace. It sat in the corner of the long signing table, tucked away to itself, but in sight of anyone who cared to take a look.
At one point, Melissa pointed to the brace. She broke down in tears.
That brace is more than symbolic of what her daughter has accomplished in a journey full of heart and passion and ambition and a will to never quit.
Olivia spent three months wearing that purple back brace, three long and bitter months when she thought she might never play softball again. Two stress fractures in her back took her off the mound and put her in the back brace.
That was her freshman year at Hubbard, a year she will never forget.
Now they will never forget Olivia, who won 44 games and struck out 380 batters over the last three years at Hubbard, where she has helped the Lady Jags emerge as a state power.
“I wore the back brace for three months and I never thought I would play again,'' Curtis said Friday morning. “Then I re-fractured it my sophomore year.''
Still, she never quit — when quitting would have been easy — and took the mound with a devastating fastball and courage to finish her career at Hubbard.
“The summer of my junior year I told my dad that I wanted to play. I told him I didn't want to look back and regret not trying,'' Olivia said. “Today is unbelievable. This is a dream come true. Having it taken away and fighting to get it back when it wasn't there makes it even better.''
Olivia is 18-3-1 this season and Hubbard is in the heart of the playoffs with the dream of winning state title, which would cap off Olivia's brilliant career.
“She is the whole package,'' Hubbard softball Coach Mike Saucke said. “She's a great kid and a great kid in class. She has unbelievable control and she throws hard and has a devastating changeup. She can throw in the low 60s and then throw her changeup at 30 mph. I think it's unfair. You just laugh when you see it.''
Olivia has struck out 167 batters while walking just 22 this season, an she has a 1.57 ERA — and she has a 3.7 GPA.
“Mary Hardin Baylor is getting a diamond in the rough,'' Saucke said. “She's a Division I pitcher.''
Olivia has always wanted to play softball.
“I went to my first Baylor game when I was 7,'' she said. “I saw Lisa Ferguson pitch and I told my dad that day: 'This is what I want to do,' My parents did everything for me. My first pitching coach was Baylor Coach Brittany Newman, and when I was 13 we changed coaches and I had Reggie Graves for my pitching coach.''
It wasn't exactly an auspicious beginning.
Olivia's first game on the mound cane when she was 8. She didn't retire anyone.
“I walked everyone on the other team,'' she said. “Every single batter. Then they took me out of the game. I didn't throw my first strike until my second game.''
But even after walking everyone, Olivia had no plans on quitting.
“I told my dad after that game that I loved it,'' she said. “My parents thought I wanted to quit.''
She never did.
When she was 10 er select team, which included Hubbard teammates Kate Saucke and Amy Anz, won the national 10-and-under tournament in Kansas City. Olivia was voted the tournament's MVP Offensive Player. She can hit as well as pitch.
Last summer she went to Mary Hardin Baylor's summer camp and fell in love with the program.
“I told them I wanted to play there and committed to them right then and there,'' Olivia said.
Then she waited for signing day.
Well, for the Celebration Day …