STUART — After battling on opposite sides for a championship during the Native American Sports Association (NASA) Softball Tournament, two women’s teams filled with Seminoles and sentimental determination met in the infield for photos.
Their uniforms – the grey shirts of the champion Onna B’s adorned with a purple ribbon on the front, and the white shirts of the runner-up Lady Seminoles with “In Memory of Parker Jones” stamped on the right shoulders – told part of the warmhearted stories that compelled both squads through the women’s division Aug. 7-8 at Halpatiokee Regional Park in Stuart.
Catcher Jo Jo Osceola formed Onna B’s as a tribute to Breanna Billie, 19, who would have played in her first NASA tournament this year but instead watched games and the championship from the sidelines as she wins a fight against cancer.
“She’s like my little sister,” Osceola said. “I think we played better when she [watched us].”
“We decided to do a team together because she would have played with us this year,” said Onna B’s outfielder Darlah Cypress. “It was good to be out here and be able to play for her.”
Not only did Hodgkin lymphoma – a cancer of the lymph nodes and immune system – rob Billie of playing in the tournament, it also forced her to miss her senior softball season this spring when she would have played alongside Cypress for district and regional champion Moore Haven High School.
Although unable to play her favorite sport, Billie looked at home amid smiling faces when she joined the celebration after Onna B’s captured the championship. Onna B is Billie’s nickname.
“Them having a team and do stuff for me that I can’t do, that’s really kept me motivated,” she said.
Billie said her doctors consider her in remission. Her final chemotherapy session was scheduled for a week after the tournament.
“In about three months I’ll be able to get my port out and that’s when I’ll be able to come back, able to start working out,” she said. “I’m recovering and everything. The chemo really broke my body down a lot.”
Onna B’s also included a few players from other Tribes. The team won five of its six games and sipped Hard Rock Energy drinks while celebrating with Billie and the championship trophy.
“It’s really good to be able to win it for her and her being here to witness it,” Cypress said.
Onna B’s only loss came in the first game of the championship round – referred to by some as the Seminole Showdown – when they were edged by the Lady Seminoles, 2-1.
The Lady Seminoles’ impressive run to the title match came as they played in memory of Parker Jones, a father and coach who helped establish interest in softball among many of the players when they were youngsters in Brighton.
This year marked the first NASA tournament since Jones passed away earlier this year.
“When we were kids we started playing NAYO under Parker and his brother Johnnie and Jack Chalfant,” recalled Lady Seminoles outfielder Wendi Riley, whose love of the sport had her playing in 16 games in three days for teams in the coed, women’s and legends divisions. “He would take us to tournaments. He was our biggest fan and our biggest supporter for years. If it weren’t for him, a lot of us probably wouldn’t have started together.”
A lot of those former youngsters still play together as adults. Jones’ daughters Laverne Thomas and Ginger Jones suited up for the Lady Seminoles and contributed with key hits to help the team emerge from the losers’ bracket.
Both teams displayed passion for the sport and their causes with extra efforts in the field, including an all-out dive by Cypress for a shallow fly ball; a highlight-reel, backhanded stop and throw from deep third base by Jaryaca Baker; a headfirst slide from Mary Huff; a bullet fired from right fielder Brianna Nunez to nab a runner at third; and an amazing over-the-shoulder catch by Amanda Smith in left-center.
After suffering its first loss, Onna B’s bats exploded in the winner-take-all finale for a 12-1 win.
Arla Shawnee had two doubles and four RBIs and Baker slammed a two-run double as a memorable tournament concluded for both teams.
Members of the NASA women’s champion Onna B’s were Jaryaca Baker, Kristen Billie, Darlah Cypress, Shaylon Farmer, Kritter McGirt, Jo Jo Osceola, Meaghan Osceola, Arla Shawnee, Audrey Snow, Stephanie Snow, Elishia Thompson and Charity Waller.