Former Gamecocks Show Strength in Numbers
June 19, 2018
They wore the same number for the same program, and although they didn’t play at the same time, former South Carolina softball infielders Chrissy Schoonmaker (2004-2008), Evan Childs (2009-2012), and Krystan White (2015-2018) may as well be teammates. The trio created a special bond through regular communication over the years to make sure the generations wearing their beloved number 11 are doing well and doing things the right way.
“We’ve all kept up with each other, and I enjoy being involved with all of them,” said Schoonmaker, who is now an assistant coach at UCONN and was a volunteer assistant for South Carolina early in Childs’ career. “We just all support each other, and that’s one of the cool things about being a South Carolina alum in that we’re always going to support each other. You want the program to do well of course, but you cheer a little harder for them and pull for them because you share a common bond.”
“It meant a whole lot,” said Childs, who now operates her own business as a successful certified personal trainer. “Everybody loves to have a mentor. Chrissy is such an awesome person. As a coach or friend, she just shines at everything.”
You’re always pulling for the program, but this gave me somebody to really pull for.Chrissy Schoonmaker
“They’ve both been amazing,” White said. “They always reach out and we keep that 11-bond going. I thought it was really special to have them keeping up with things. We have a lot of bonding moments over number 11 and certain other things. When anything good happens, I’ll get a message or tweet saying, ‘way to go number 11.'”
For Schoonmaker, it all started when she was a freshman for the Gamecocks in 2004 and the recently graduated Danielle Quinones (2000-2003), who wore 11 before her, reached out with a phone call.
“She gave me a pep talk about embracing the journey,” Schoonmaker said. “She built me up and talked to me about leaving the uniform better than you found it. She would come back for alumni weekend each year and was really encouraging and helpful. I appreciated that.”
That inspired Schoonmaker to pay it forward when she graduated and was part of South Carolina’s staff as a volunteer assistant coach for a couple of years for which she had plenty of chances to pass on her knowledge to the next number 11, Evan Childs.
“I always felt like we had a special bond when she was a volunteer coach here,” Childs said. “Even though she couldn’t play favorites, I felt like there was always an extra high-five for me. She always made me feel really good.”
“We just always supported each other,” Schoonmaker said. “When you’ve graduated, you’re always aware of the program and its success, but you’re keeping up with the people that wear the same number you wore. I always encouraged Evan when I was a coach. She was pretty obsessed with her number, as was I. With Whitey, she was a camper when I was a player. I can remember her coming to clinics as a little kid. So, I wanted to encourage her as well.”
It’s a little sisterhood within a sisterhood. You hope whomever is going to wear it is intense and loves the game as much as you do.Evan Childs
White followed Childs’ footsteps in wearing number 11, and wore it well as a four-year starter at four different positions while helping the Gamecocks reach the NCAA Tournament each year, including a remarkable 49-17 season this year that resulted in a third place finish in the SEC and a trip to the NCAA Super Regional.
“I remember when Krystan got the number at South Carolina,” Childs said. “I said, ‘Yes! That’s an athlete! That’s who I want to have that number.’ I had actually met her way before she came to South Carolina. My brother was a manager at a YMCA in Chesterfield County, and I was helping out with a softball camp there, and Krystan White had come out to help. At the time, she was just a kid, and so we sort of created a bond back then. A year or two later, I found out she committed to South Carolina.”
“I talk to Whitey on the phone a lot and sent her messages just to tell her how proud I was of her,” Schoonmaker said. “On senior day, I wished her luck and sent her a message which was about one of the things we always talk about; leaving the jersey better than you found it. She has certainly done that. I wanted to let her know how proud the alumni were of her and wish her luck.”
Encouragement for life as a student-athlete comes through phone calls, texts and Tweets, and it’s not just about playing ball. Each of the former Gamecocks has overcome some hardship at some point. White lost her father last fall following injuries received in a car accident. Childs’ father passed away a few years after her playing career, and Schoonmaker overcame a serious neck injury from a car accident that caused her to miss the 2007 season and was told she may never play softball again. She came back for her fifth year and played in 2008.
“When Krystan lost her dad, I reached out because I had lost my dad a couple of years after I graduated,” Childs said. “I just wanted to let her know that if there’s anyone who knows what she’s going through, it’s me. I told her I would just be here if she wanted to talk. So, we talked about that, and we’ve stayed in contact. She has asked me some ‘big sister’ types of questions.”
“Evan lost her father as well, a couple of years back,” White said. “She sent me the nicest hand-written letter I’ve ever seen. She wanted to let me know that she was here for me. So, we’ve had a couple of things to bond over, other than the number itself.
“Schoony was in a very bad accident when she was a player here. So just hearing that story and trying to have faith; we had multiple long phone calls.”
“I broke my neck in three places, wore the halo, went to rehab and came back for my fifth year,” Schoonmaker said. “At the time, you think ‘why is this happening?’ Now it’s one of the stories in coaching that I draw a lot from when players have injuries. It’s something I can share with them. I’m better because of it, but as awful as that experience was, it was one of the biggest blessings in my life in that I learned so much from it. I don’t take things for granted. I’m grateful for everything.”
Things seem to come full-circle in 2018 when South Carolina hosted the NCAA Regional for the first time in 11 years, when Schoonmaker was on the team. White wore the hero’s cape by hitting a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in an elimination game against Hofstra, propelling the Gamecocks to the regional championship round, which they would win on the way to Super Regionals for the first time in 11 years.
“I was there at the regional this year, and I told all of the people standing around me before it happened to say a little prayer and ask Buck (White’s father) to help her come through and give her a moment she’ll remember for the rest of her life,” Schoonmaker said. “Then that happened. I jumped up and down. I had goosebumps. I was just so excited for her to have that moment.”
Now that White has graduated, time will tell who will wear number 11 next. Those that wore it before will be sure to keep their eyes, and lines of communication, open.
“It’s about keeping up with each other and knowing that we had a special connection with each other,” White said. “We’ll always have that, and now we’ll try to pass it on. It’ll be fun. I’ll definitely keep (the next one) in the loop. I’ll tell her she’d better do a good job or I’m going toâ€¦ No, I’m just kidding! I’ll tell her just to embrace everything and have fun.”
“We all just love that number and sort of developed a sisterhood over it,” Childs said. “I’ve met a lot of our (softball) alumni and with the number 11 thing, it’s a little sisterhood within a sisterhood. You hope whomever is going to wear it is intense and loves the game as much as you do. You also want them to be a kind person.
“I really look up to Chrissy, and with Krystan, I look up to her in some ways, too. They’re two of my favorite people within the whole organization of Carolina softball with the hardships they’ve overcome.”
“You’re always pulling for the program, but this gave me somebody to really pull for,” Schoonmaker said. “You’re always invested in the program, but it’s cool when you have a tie with a person. It makes you feel connected.”