Jan. 16, 2013
By Assistant Sports Information Director Steve Stone
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Seminoles.com) - There is a lot of positive things to talk about when referring to the Florida State softball program. The tradition is among the best in collegiate softball, numerous accolades have been earned over the years by superb players, and the facilities and devotion put into the sport in Tallahassee is second to none.
What aspect is more important than the other is anyone's to judge. But an underrated value by those looking in is something that head coach Lonni Alameda never overlooks - the success and character of its alumnae. For two recent players in Robin Ahrberg and Kristie McConn, the work they have done in their post softball careers is something to both marvel and applaud at.
Both former Seminoles ended their collegiate careers following their senior seasons in 2011, yet have managed to stay connected to softball in the best way imaginable. Ahrberg and McConn joined an inspirational organization called World Baseball Outreach that "provides faith based mentoring and encouragement to underserved youth," according to its method statement. It is an organization aimed for the greater good, something that falls right in line with the values of the two softball standouts.
While McConn and Ahrberg each enjoyed an unforgettable experience at Florida State, both educationally and athletically, perhaps nothing can compare to their mission trip with World Baseball Outreach in the Dominican Republic in late December 2012. Paired with other baseball and softball players across the United States, the group traveled overseas on a mission to provide joy, faith and a bit of knowledge to several children who reside in the underprivileged areas of the country.
Once Ahrberg found out about the purpose of the organization and how charitable it has been over the years, she knew it was a no-brainer to take part in it.
"The organization is a non-profit one out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they work with Major League Baseball and its RBI program, which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities," Ahrberg said. "The person who owns it, Jerry Jacobson, had been in touch with a lot of people throughout the world. In 1995 he started donating baseball and softball gear to different places and had the opportunity to go spread baseball and softball and do ministry through that. He usually takes a group of high school kids every six months or so and they go to places like the Dominican, Venezuela and other places. To the Dominicans it's really special."
A sport like baseball has instant popularity in a place like the Dominican Republic where some of the best past and present professional ballplayers are from. Ahrberg and McConn were able to teach several of the Dominicans a lot about the way softball is played fastpitch style. The two Oklahoma natives teamed with a ministry called Los Buffalos and taught clinics on the proper fundamentals involved with playing the sport.
"These kids come from inner cities, a lot of them don't go to school and they come from really hard backgrounds," Ahrberg stated. "We went over there to put on some baseball and softball clinics and Kristie and I played with about 40-50 girls. We taught them how to play softball and how to throw. We taught them pitching because they don't know underhand pitching fastpitch and we ended up playing a couple games with them."
The most fulfilling part of the trip came outside of the playing field. Through the enormous efforts of World Baseball Outreach, the two Florida State softball alumnae were able to lend a hand to the Dominican Republic natives and perform several generous activities that has become the basis of the mission trips.
"We delivered food to some of the families we worked with, visited some orphanages and I think we took about 12-13 baseball bags over there full of equipment and left them there," Ahrberg added. "We passed out some of our old Nike Dri-Fit shirts to these people and we felt like we were representing FSU by saying `Hey, this is where we came from and this is where we learned a lot of things.' I think it was pretty special for the girls."
For McConn, who works with WBO, the mission trip gave her an appreciation for what she already has.
"Taking a trip down to the Dominican Republic gave me a whole new perspective on our lives here in the U.S," McConn added. "We obviously have access to anything we could possibly want or need here in the U.S and on this trip I truly saw that it is not about what you have in life but about whom you have in your life, as well as how you live your life. You may not have all the material things in your life, but if you have your family and friends and have strong faith there is no reason you cannot be happy. Make the best of what you have and never take anything for granted."
The experience was neat for the two because they were in fact representing their alma mater across another country.
"When my boss and I were first talking about this trip I immediately thought of Robin and how cool it would be to have two former FSU softball players travel together to spread our knowledge and experiences of the game," McConn said. "I felt like I was also representing FSU and not just WBO by having Robin come along on the trip as well. We definitely wore our FSU gear and showed our Seminole pride."
From 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Ahrberg and McConn joined a host of other WBO members in Santo Domingo and allowed the day to breeze by with several pick-up games that entertained good crowds.
"It was really cool because we would be driving places and off the side of the road you would see the kids playing baseball," Ahrberg said. "You would go to a field and the ministry leader would schedule something that day, and at the end of the day there were probably 50-60 people who would show up around the field and watch. There would be a whole `nother game in the outfield that the kids would start by themselves."
Plenty of pictures were taken to capture an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding trip for both Seminoles. It gave them a strong perspective on several aspects of life and provided a snapshot of how much they both enjoy performing philanthropic deeds.
It was at Florida State where Ahrberg and McConn gained great experience in performing community service activities and saw the joy of helping others. Perhaps it was their numerous endeavors as part of the Seminole softball program that sparked their interest to further commit to good will in their post-playing days while educating those who were less experienced at the sport.
"I think my experience playing and being part of the Florida State softball program, I really got a great opportunity to work with the Tallahassee community," Ahrberg said. "That really prepared me for the work I got to do in the Dominican Republic. Being a student-athlete, it's really important for you to see that stuff and being at the clinics I've learned a lot here at Florida State working with kids who have had just a little training or even kids with a lot of training. Going down to that area, it was like I could take all my experience from Florida State and it was easy to jump into that community and say `Hey, we're here to help and we want you guys to get better.'"
McConn echoed her sentiments after four years and countless hours spent in the Tallahassee community.
"Participating in the community service at FSU had a big part in showing me how important it is to give back," she said. "And as athletes we have the ability to reach so many different people through our own sports and that can have such a positive impact on the communities we are in and internationally as well. We are given the gift to play sports so why not use that gift to serve others as well?"
Although the saying has become rather cliché, watching players become better people can be identified as the true barometer of any collegiate program. For these two Florida State alumnae, the character they have shown and the altruistic values they hold are a proper guide for future Seminoles to follow.