It’s become a part of the Opening Day ritual. High school baseball and fastpitch softball seniors return to NYO, the place where they learned to play. School games get in the way, so not everyone can make it.
This year, 32 baseball and six fastpitch players were recognized. But one was extra special: Andee Poulos.
‘This is one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had,’ said Brian Raley, fastpitch softball commissioner, as he called out Andee’s name. Brian was Andee’s first coach at NYO when she was 8-years-old. ‘(Hers) is a great lesson of what happens when you don’t give up.’ Andee, who will graduate from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in June then will go on to one of the many universities that have already accepted for this fall, stood and listened. Six years ago, we feared and prayed for Andee’s life.
Andee, now 20, suffered a massive stroke when a blood vessel ruptured in her brain. There was the coma. Andee did not walk, talk, eat or drink on her own for 20 months. Yet, she, her parents and younger brother never stopped in their pursuit of her recovery. Nor did the doctors and other medical professionals who cared for Andee. Little by little, she regained ground. As she did, she, her family and a community of friends, including NYO, formed something called ‘Andee’s Army.’ From road races to softball tournaments, the ‘Army’ set about raising funds to help families of other children who have suffered brain or spinal injuries cover gaps in insurance coverage. By late summer 2016, more than $1.3 million had been raised.
The Atlanta Braves honored Andee as a ‘community hero’ at a game last summer and contributed to Andee’s Army. Better yet, several Braves, including Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and broadcaster Chip Caray, paid a surprise visit to Andee at Holy Innocents’ last August. Andee, who missed two years of school as she recovered, is a senior. Her commitment to softball and baseball has not waned. She helps out with both of the Holy Innocents’ varsity teams.
College awaits. The list of acceptances already includes Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Others are yet to make their intentions known. And what does Andee aspire to study, to do?
‘I’d like to be a family counselor in a hospital (working with children),’ she says. ‘They (counselors) helped me and my family so much.’
It was three years ago on another NYO Opening Day that Andee made her way to the mound on the Jane Wilkins Bronco field to deliver the first pitch. It was a moment that will live forever in NYO lore. A role model to so many today, Andee holds NYO securely in her heart. ‘It’s just like a family to me. I feel like I grew up here.’
(Jay Smith, who writes Dugout Doings, is honored any time he gets a chance to write about Andee)