Inspirational camp: NCAA softball champion Seminoles embrace relationships with area family
By Jerome Richard / Times-News correspondent
Posted Jul 9, 2018 at 10:56 PM
John Turner choked up talking about Taylor Foster. Macey Cheatham credited Foster with changing her life.
Lonni Alameda, coach of the newly crowned NCAA softball champion Florida State Seminoles, keeps returning to Burlington because of Foster.
Foster was one of those rare people whose spirit, charisma and struggle captivated and inspired people, not only while living but long after. Foster still elicited emotional responses four years after dying April 27, 2014.
“She changed my life,” said Cheatham, a catcher for the Seminoles from 2012-16.
Cheatham explained Foster’s impact Monday during a break from coaching at the Got Game Camp 7 softball camp at Burlington’s Springwood Park. It’s an annual event in memory of Foster, a passionate softball player whose playing days were cut short by osteosarcoma bone cancer at the age of 17.
Foster loved to play softball and was a huge fan of the Seminoles, hoping to one day play at the school. Alameda learned of the Brown’s Summit teenager’s plight and her passion for Florida State softball through various connections.
Alameda called Foster, who thought it was a prank call, and later visited her at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem to celebrate Foster’s 16th birthday. During that visit the Florida State players face-timed and sang Happy Birthday to Foster.
Thus, an enduring relationship began between the Seminoles and Foster and her family.
“I think any coach has a responsibility to those who dream of playing college softball to help those people achieve their dream,” Alameda said, taking a break from coaching at this week’s Camp 7. “I knew Taylor couldn’t play softball and was coaching, so I wanted to keep her spirits up.”
At the time of Alameda’s visit, Foster was helping Turner coach a recreational softball team and later helped him with a travel squad. One of the travel teams, Got Game, suggested a benefit tournament and also started Taylor Foster Scholarship Fund.
“Her drive and ability to talk to people made her special,” Turner said. “The kids she talked to were 14, 15 years old, around her age, and she connected with them. It was a spiritual, personality and age thing.”
Foster had a way of connecting with people despite the pain caused by her disease.
“Taylor was one of those people you meet and instantly click with,” said Cheatham, who first met Foster in 2013 at a game in Atlanta. “She is someone I wanted in my life. She taught us that there is so much that is bigger than ourselves. She taught us to help others, create change and that there was more than just playing softball.”
Wendy Foster, Taylor’s mom, said, “I think God put Taylor and Macey together along with that entire team.”
Alameda has a reputation for more than just teaching softball.
“I tell my players when they think things are tough or they are hot and tired, hey, we are just playing softball,” she said. “When you see someone fighting for their life in a hospital bed, yeah, it’s hot on the field, no not really, we’re just playing softball. It puts what we do in perspective.
“It’s a chance for us as a program to recognize all the people who love the game and don’t have the opportunity to play … for us to realize there is no reason to feel bad.”
The relationship between Alameda and her Florida State program and the Foster family is more than a high-profile coach taking a photo with a youngster in a hospital bed and then moving on. It’s one that has endured and strengthened, and one that Florida State softball players still buy into.
“We’ll still talk about Taylor years later,” Alameda said. “We want to keep her spirit alive. She taught us lessons that keep us grounded.”
There were numerous times when Taylor Foster sat in the Florida State dugout, especially at games involving nearby schools such as North Carolina or North Carolina State. If the team was in the area and Foster couldn’t attend a game, the Seminoles came to her house.
There were chats and photographs sent about prom dresses, hair styles and what to wear to certain events. The Foster’s dog was named Noles during a team visit to the Foster home.
Delaney Foster was 11 years old when her sister Taylor died. She gave up softball after Taylor’s death and has had a hard time dealing with the passing of the sibling who “always had my back.” The rising junior at Northeast Guilford would like to attend Florida State after graduation. She’ll know at least one person on the Tallahassee campus.
“I just call her ‘Coach,’ ” Delaney, 16, said of Alameda. “She is so caring. She takes people under her wing that she doesn’t know, and that takes courage. She’s amazing.”
Wendy Foster called the Florida State players her daughter’s sounding board and one reason Taylor was able to keep death at bay for as long as she did.
“I always wondered if Taylor would make it as far as she did without (Florida State players),” Foster said. “She pushed herself to see those girls. They gave her the will to live.”
Taylor Foster wore No. 7 as a softball player. It plays a role in her connection with the Florida State softball program. Consider the following:
• The Seminoles won this year’s Women’s College World Series in their seventh game of the event.
• The game started at 7 p.m.
• It was the Seminoles’ 70th game of the season.
• TF 7 is carved into the gate to the Florida State softball field
• Macey Cheatham and several Florida State players have a VII tattooed on the wrists.
• Florida State let Oregon use its bus at the Women’s College World Series and an Oregon player left a No. 7 jersey in the bus.