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Family inspired Smolko’s passion for softball

Junior+Kaylee+Smolko+is+a+standout+on+the+Baldwin+girls+softball+team.+
Kenzie Hirt
Junior Kaylee Smolko is a standout on the Baldwin girls softball team.

Junior first baseman and outfielder Kaylee Smolko started playing softball because it was a fun sport to pick up at a young age. But after her sister, Isabella Smolko, first got diagnosed with a rare disease called Langerhans cell histiocytosis at 6 months old and then beat it by age 2, softball became more than just a game. 

“I wanted to prove to her that I can be a role model for her through softball and show her that she is strong,” Smolko said. 

From the first time Smolko’s sister started playing, Smolko has gone to her games as much as possible to see her sister grow throughout the game. Isabella Smolko is now 9 years old.

“It was doubtful that she was ever going to be healthy enough to even play sports, and now she is rising up to be an amazing player,” she said. 

Smolko said softball has brought her family together, and now they can all share something that they love. 

“We get to spend time bonding and watching my sister enjoy something we love too,” she said. 

Smolko’s parents had a big role in her softball career, beginning from when they signed her up for T-ball at 4 years old. 

Smolko’s mom played softball all the way through college, “so she also wanted me to love the sport like she did,” Smolko said. Her dad coached her for a while, which also played a big role in keeping Smolko’s love for the game alive.

Today, Smolko loves the memories she creates with her teammates every day, as well as “having the ability to succeed in high-pressure situations to help my team,” she said. 

This year for the high school softball team, Smolko currently has a strong all-season batting average of .412. 

Smolko’s teammate, sophomore Mackenzie Bowen, said Smolko’s energy inspires the team. 

“Kaylee brings a positive and uplifting spirit to the team. She really is a role model for everyone not only on the field but off the field,” Bowen said.

Coach Ron Santillo said Smolko is dedicated to both her athletics and academics, and he knows he can count on her to be a role model for the other girls.

“Kaylee is a great player and athlete, as apparent in her excelling in volleyball as well as softball. She has an amazing attitude, always positive, and just a great example for all players on how to conduct yourself on and off the field,” Santillo said. 

Senior Anna Schumacher agreed, noting that Smolko has stepped up this year as a leader. 

“When Kaylee is up to bat, I have full confidence in her. She’s very energetic and always shows up to play,” Schumacher said. 

Between playing high school softball and on a travel team, Kaylee has had many experiences with different teams and teammates. High school softball is a much shorter season, but she has played with many of her Baldwin teammates since they all started playing, which is something she loves. 

She also loves playing travel because of the long weekends and time she has to spend with her team during the tournaments. 

“My favorite tournament I’ve ever played was in Orrville, Ohio, on the Fourth of July weekend. There were 100 teams in the tournament, and we made it into the top eight,” she said. “I loved watching fireworks and going to the carnival with my teammates.” 

Looking ahead, Santillo has high hopes for Smolko’s softball career.

“Kaylee is a great, hardworking, dedicated player and has a bright future in softball, as do many of our girls on the team due to their focus. You perform in the classroom and put as much emphasis on that as you do athletics,” he said. 

Smolko said she is inspired by girls who put their whole heart into softball and have taken it to the next level.

“I strive to be the kind of player that people want to be around, but who also contributes everything she has to help the team succeed,” Smolko said. 

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About the Contributors
Kenzie Hirt
Kenzie Hirt, News Editor
News Editor Kenzie Hirt is a senior in her third year on the Purbalite staff. When she isn’t running for cross country and track, she can be found listening to Morgan Wallen or hanging out with friends.
Eliza Swanson
Eliza Swanson, News Editor
News Editor Eliza Swanson is a senior and a third-year Purbalite staff member. She can be found getting coffee with friends, listening to Frank Ocean, or watching reruns of Gilmore Girls. 
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