CHULA VISTA, Calif. – When the Mater Dei softball team finds itself in pinch, they look to honorary Crusader Kelly Lecker to lift them out of it.
The 7-year-old who was born with cerebral palsy, joined the team this season as part of Coach Mike Centrullo’s honorary player program.
“The idea was to find a child and to maybe change their life, help distract them from something they’re going though and to maybe help these girls grow a little bit and mature and understand that they have it pretty good,” Centrullo said.
Lecker teaches her fellow teammates some pretty big lessons.
The young girl from Alpine throws out the first pitch at home, cheers them on from the dugout and runs with the team after ever match.
“Seeing what she’s going through makes us feel lucky and we shouldn’t take this sport for granted because we don’t know what life holds for us,” said Amanda Idiaquez, a softball player.
“It’s really exciting for Kelly, because she would never be able to play on a team sport,” her mother Becky Lecker said. “She’s really shy at first, but now she feels like she has a bunch of older sisters and they embrace her. She walks up in her walker and they scream her name and she cheers. It’s just really uplifting to all of us.”
In 2013, the team’s first honorary player, 12-year-old Carly Gastinau, helped the team rally to their fourth Division IV Championship.
“It was really fun being with all the girls,” Gastinau said. It was also special for her older sister Sydney, who is not a freshman crusader.
“It just shows that this isn’t everything,” Sydney said. “To be able to do it for someone is a really big deal. I hope they feel loved and they feel like someone cares.”
Coach Centrullo certainly cares. He hopes to expand the program to other schools in San Diego.