Two decades ago, Chattanooga State All-American
third baseman Barbara Stephens could hit just about anything thrown at her; curveball,
riser, fastball, changeup, inside or outside.
Known as a left-handed Mike Schmidt, she batted .420
and .450 in two seasons (1994, 1996) under then Chatt State coach Frank Reed
(Now at UTC) and will enter the college’s sports hall of fame with former All-American
teammate Kristi Jeffries Campbell next week.
Yet today, life has thrown a wicked curve at the
40-year-old nurse in the form of a rare lung disease, but she stands in there
ready to take as many swings as necessary to beat the odds.
“I was given two months to live four years ago, but
with lots of prayer, having the Lord’s hand on my life and good doctors to help
I am still alive,” said Stephens who was earned 12 varsity letters in three
sports (softball, basketball, track and field) at Ringgold High School in the
Stephens had a tumor just below her heart removed in
2012, but today she has 17 tumors in her body, including one on her spine which
hinders her ability to walk well, as she looks for a medical cure.
“There is medicine to slow the growth of the current
tumors and keep new ones from forming in my body, but side effects due to my
pancreatitis keeps me from taking it in large doses,” said Stephens who makes a
visit to Vanderbilt Hospital every three months for a checkup.
“At this point, there isn’t a cure for the cancer I
have, but hopefully I can find the proper medicine to help me live another 20
years or so.
“I know that Jesus Christ has a purpose for me in
all this and I rely on His strength to get me through.”
Hall of Fame Career: While she struggles with life’s
problems, Chattanooga State looks to brighten up her day next Friday as the
college will showcase her career on the diamond as part of the 2014 hall of
fame dinner at the Walden Club. She is one of five former athletes in this
year’s HOF class.
Class of 2014: Tennis: Barbara Stephens (1994, ’96) and
Kristi Jeffries Campbell (1993-94); Tennis: Jessica St. John Graff (1997-99) and
Ana Alejandra Gomez DeLo’pez (1997-98); Baseball: Jim Plumlee (1976-78).
Hall of Fame Dinner: Ticket reservations ($50 per
seat) can be made by calling the Chattanooga State Foundation at 423/697-2656.
Today (Friday) is the last day for dinner reservations.
selected for the hall of fame and going in the same year with Kristi means a
lot to me as I want to be able to leave some type of softball legacy at the
college which gave me a chance to play college softball,” said Stephens.
The Path to Chatt State:
Born a year apart in the early 1970s, the two future
Tiger All-Americans took different paths to Chattanooga State.
Jeffries was good at the game early on thanks to the
backyard coaching from grandfather W.C. Benton and she honed her skills on
manicured fields nationwide playing 12 years (age 7-18) and in three national
tournaments (one tourney MVP award) for the Frost Falcons.
Jeffries is one of six teammates who were together
all 12 years joining Baylor School and UTC star Amy Robertson, J.C. Tucker (La.
Tech), Stephanie Frost, Shannon Sneed and Candice Clark.
“I am dedicating my hall of fame award next week to
my grandfather who got me started in softball, saw that I had a talent for the
game early on and attended so many of my games throughout my career,” said
Jeffries who looked to baseball hall of fame shortstop Ozzie Smith as her model
on how to play the game.
Asked if she could do the Ozzie Smith back flips,
she said with a laugh, “I wish.”
Stephens was raised in the Black Stock community of
Ringgold and became a sold hitter by playing with the boys in the neighborhood.
“After my brothers and I lost too many baseballs in
the cornfield next to our property, my dad said if I could consistently hit
rocks with a stick then I could hit a softball with a bat and he was right,”
said Stephens whose brother Bill played a few years in the Los Angeles Dodgers
and Montreal Expos organization.
“When I was
14 the local Dixie Boys Baseball team needed a player so I made the lineup and
was an all-star that year.”
Coach Frank Reed Comments
Kristi Jeffries – “Kristi was the perfect number
three batter in the lineup … she was an excellent slap hitter who could bunt
and also drive the ball in the alleys …and steal a base for you … in the field
she had the quickness to get to the ball in the hole between short and third
and had the arm to make the throw to first.”
Barbara Stephens – “Barbara was the big, power left-handed
hitter who was in the cleanup spot and could really drive the ball.”
Tribute to north Georgia Slow Pitch Players: “Barbara was one of those north Georgia
players who had played slow pitch in high school, but had to learn how to play
fast pitch in college.
“I believe I had seven north Georgia kids on the teams
with Barbara who played their hearts out.
“We spent many an early morning taking batting
practice in the hallways of the athletic building before school to learn the proper
swing technique and in the long run it all paid off,” said coach Reed who gives
credit to Jim Frost and Jim Parker for being a supporter of his program at
Chattanooga State and to the Chattanooga area softball program overall.
“I am sure there are more than a few dents in those classroom
doors from our early morning batting practices,” he said with a laugh.
contact B.B. Branton at email@example.com