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KINGWOOD – Olivia Brown stands in the shade of the dugout on a Tuesday afternoon in May. Wearing a 2019 Kingwood Park playoff softball t-shirt and a floral wrap around her head, the senior watches as her team practices.
Brown has watched as Kingwood Park softball won its first playoff game since 2019 and is now into the Regional Quarterfinals for the first time in four seasons.
“It’s great. In my four years here, we hadn’t gone past the first round,” Brown said. “Just seeing them work hard and play makes me happy. I know they want it. I want it still even though I’m not playing. I’m so hyped watching them play. It’s amazing and I’m so proud.”
This is her happy place. Being around softball and her teammates brings a smile to the senior’s face in a year that has been a trying one.
“Being here makes me happy,” Brown said.
At the end of her junior year, which she was the starting first baseman for Kingwood Park, Brown got to meet her new head coach Kelsie McEachern during finals week. She went through one practice with her new coach.
But at the same time, Brown wasn’t feeling right. She started having severe headaches and started going to doctors.
“I eventually went to an eye doctor,” Brown said. “He told me and my mom that I should be rushed to the ER. I was admitted at the end of July, and they realized it was a very rare tumor in a very rare spot.”
It was a ganglioglioma (GGL) brain tumor, which only 1 to 2% of tumors are, making it extremely rare and dangerous.
In August, Brown underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. Doctors found the tumor to be benign and she spent the next month in the ICU recovering which “was draining”.
Due to the surgery and tumor, Brown developed double vision in her left eye, which put her softball playing career in jeopardy.
But the coaches were not about to let Brown not be a part of the 2022 Kingwood Park team. They found her a role as a team manager.
“We want you to be our person to be almost that second coach,” Kingwood Park assistant coach Connor Grant said about what they told brown. “That voice coming from an athlete than coming from your coaches.”
Brown added: “I thought coming back was going to be really awful and not fun but since I’ve been here, I still feel like I’m a part of the team. I get to do a lot of stuff with them, so it’s good.”
Among her many duties this season, Brown started scoring each Kingwood Park softball game on thee GameChanger program.
“I’ve gotten the hang of it,” Brown said with a smile. “I was not good at it at the beginning of the year. I’ve been doing that and making sure everyone is OK and we’re good for gameday.”
But the final chapter of her softball story was yet to be written.
Going Out on Her Terms
As the 2022 season progressed and the number of regular season games started to dwindle down, Brown came to McEachern and Grant with a request.
The senior wanted to step onto the field at Kingwood Park one more time to close out her softball career on her terms.
“It made me realize that I got to choose to be done and not my health,” Brown said of the decision.
The Kingwood Park coaching staff went through the proper channels and clearance to make sure they could put Brown on the field.
In the end, it was decided she could play for three outs in left field.
On April 5, against Caney Creek at home, Olivia Brown was announced during the pregame ceremony as the starting left fielder. Her name was in the lineup card and for one final time, Brown got to be a Kingwood Park Panther softball starter.
“I know for her to step onto this field and wear cleats, it was the world,” McEachern said. “Because she has been through so much. It meant everything to every single person that was there.”
Brown made it through her predetermined three outs of work in left field. With the final out of the top of the first inning, she trotted to the dugout and feel into the arms of Grant – the coach who had been here with her all four years – and cried.
“It was a closure kind of thing,” Brown said.
Grant added: “I definitely got a little teary-eyed. This is what this game is about. This is what the four years and the sport really lives for. Seeing her out there for me, it was very fulfilling in the whole situation.”
Brown proceeded to go down the dugout and hug every member of the team. McEachern admits there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. They all knew how special those three outs meant to Brown and her family.
“We gave the lineup card to her dad,” McEachern said. “So he could have that, and she could have that that she was able to play her senior year. She has that moment that she’ll have for the rest of her life.”
In the season stats, Brown’s name will not show up besides the defensive stats as starting her lone game against Caney Creek but her impact has gone well beyond that.
Brown’s senior presence in the dugout for a team that is relatively young has been felt and along with her positive approach to every single day no matter what.
“She has shown up every single day with a smile on her face,” McEachern said. “She has been a huge part of this team this year. I think it is good for the younger kids to see that attitude. Look ‘I don’t get to play this game anymore but I’m still here with a smile on my face and happy to be here’. I think the younger ones have grasped that and bought into it.
“Even if some days we don’t feel like being here we look at “Brownie” and it’s just a reminder.”
Brown considers herself lucky.
Going through her experience in the past year has taught the senior lessons that she will carry for the rest of her life.
“Things just happen,” Brown said. “It’s not fair, none of it is fair. But you just have to keep close to the people that make you happy, like your friends and family. Just try to see the positive through all of it and just know it’s going to be OK.”
For McEachern, in her first year leading the Kingwood Park program, Brown has taught her and her team how to fight and never give up.
“She has meant everything to me as a person and a player,” McEachern said. “She is someone I look up to, honestly, even as a coach you look up to her.”