Rising above adversity

After season-ending injury, Washougal softball star inspires teammates from dugout

Injured Washougal softball pitcher and now the team's manager and pitching coach, Paige Forsberg (left), says she's happy to be working with assistant coach Bruce Chilcote (right).

Washougal softball player Hannah Toops works on her pitches inside the Washougal High gym during a recent practice. Toops has become a starting pitcher for the Panthers under the direction of injured Washougal pitcher Paige Forsberg (not pictured).

Washougal pitcher Hailey Froeber takes direction from her injured teammate Paige Forsberg (not pictured) on a rainy day, inside the Washougal High School gym.

Washougal softball senior sensation Paige Forsberg has been an all-league player since she was a freshman and has the second-highest batting average of any player in Washougal softball history.

Last year, her pitching was so good, the United States Coast Guard Academy flew Forsberg to New London, Connecticut, and offered her a scholarship to play softball. It was a dream come true for the Washougal High senior, who has studied and played the game she loves since age 6.

Even more exciting, was the fact that Forsberg was about to start her senior year with the Panthers softball team and play with six other seniors, many of whom she has played softball with since grade school.

But life doesn’t always go as expected, and Forsberg is learning that tough lesson at an early age.

For Forsberg, life started to change in the fall of her senior year, after a sore back turned into full-blown back surgery and then into a rescinded softball scholarship offer from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. And if that wasn’t devastating enough for the Washougal teenager, she was now facing a senior season without the sport she had loved since childhood.

“I had to tell coach Carver that I couldn’t play softball for my senior year, which was so hard because I feel such a close bond with everyone on this Washougal High School softball team,” Forsberg said.

Coach John Carver admits that Forsberg’s announcement was tough on the entire team, which had been counting on the senior player’s outstanding pitching and hitting skills.

“She’s such an inspiration — just an amazing player — and has been that way since the day she took the field as a freshman,” says Carver, who has coached the Washougal program for 30 consecutive seasons.

Coach Carver and his longtime assistant coach, Bruce Chilcote, both knew the team desperately needed Forsberg’s leadership, despite the fact that she couldn’t play.

“This team has been hers for the past three seasons and as coaches here at Washougal, we never want to let an injury prevent a player from being a part of the team,” Chilcote explains. Instead of saying goodbye, the coaches offered Forsberg a position as the team’s pitching coach.

“Technically, the school wants us to call her a player-manager, but we all refer to her as our player-coach,” Carver says.

As for Forsberg, the new role came as a sort of balm to her year of bad news.

“It was definitely a relief, because I wanted to be part of this amazing Washougal program any way I could,” she says.

Now, Forsberg is working closely with the team’s pitchers. In just a few short weeks, she’s already making an impact, Carver says.

“With her background in pitching, she’s able to help the girls with their pitching mechanics by encouraging them, talking with them and watching them do their drills,” he explains.

Junior Hannah Toops is, perhaps, reaping the most help from Forsberg’s knowledge. Toops says she always wanted to become a pitcher, but that it never really clicked — until Forsberg started working with her.

“Honestly, I didn’t really expect to be very good, but she helped me on knowing the batters and spotting positions,” Toops says. “Somehow, Paige helped turn me around for the best.”

Forsberg says the junior pitcher has a few tricks up her sleeve.

“Hannah has really surprised me. She’s really good and her mechanics are nice,” Forsberg says of her pitching student. “Plus she’s pretty fast and consistent.”

Carver says Toops is now one of his three top pitchers, along with sophomore Hailey Froeber and junior Jaden Bell.

At a recent practice, Forsberg was working with all the pitchers inside the Washougal gym. The girls listened intently as she showed them how to make the ball move in different directions.

“She was an amazing pitcher, so learning from her is very helpful, I’m lucky to be learning from her,” Hailey Froeber says of learning from Forsberg.

Coaches say Froeber made a big difference during the Panthers first league game against the Hudson’s Bay Eagles, which the Panthers won 15-14 in extra innings.

Carver and Froeber attribute the sophomore’s success to Forsberg’s teaching.

“During the games this year, (Forsberg) charts the pitches for us and works with the catcher, calling the exact locations of where we want our girls to pitch,” Carver says. “It’s huge for us.” “She even notices the small things and then has a laid-back way of keeping us calm in tough situations, ” Froeber notes.

Forsberg downplays the kind words from her coaches and teammates, and says she has not given up all hopes of getting back on the field with her teammates this year.

“I’m going to see if I can make a comeback after spring break, and see if I can play at least a couple of games. Even in the outfield, that would be nice,” Forsberg says.

She plans to attend Boise State next year and become a nurse, but admits that coaching softball has lit a new passion in her heart.

“I really do want to continue coaching, and maybe come back to Washougal and help coach this team after college,” Forsberg says.

Chilcote says that plan makes a lot of sense.

“She’s a natural born leader, quite simply,” the assistant coach says of Forsberg. “She continues to be the inspiration for this team, whether she’s playing on the field or helping us coach.”

The last year was filled with pain and disappointment for Forsberg, but she has risen above the adversity and is now turning a tough situation into a positive one. Even though she’s no longer on the field, the Washougal senior has retained her captain title, and is showing what it means to be a loyal teammate.

“Her leadership has never been stronger,” Carver says. “We are so lucky to have her on this team.”