Imperial, Missouri: As soon as the ball was hit, Seckman (Imperial, Mo.) High School softball coach Steve Bonastia knew his team had just given up a tie-breaking two-run home run.
And he knew that with the game being in the fifth inning, there wasn’t much time left and his team was likely in line for a loss. What he didn’t know, though, was that the umpires – all of them – had seen the ball differently and ruled that the ball bounced over the fence.
“My first thought when the umpires came together was that they would change it right away,” Bonastia said. “There was a retired softball coach sitting right outside the dugout. I looked at him and said, ‘If they don’t change it, I have to do the right thing.’ I had no hesitation at all.”
It turns out that the umpires didn’t do the right thing and let the call stand as a ground-rule double. Bonastia wasted no time in gently correcting the arbiters.“When it was clear they were not going to change it, I got up and said to my assistant, ‘I have to do the right thing,’ and he agreed,” Bonastia said. ”I went out and ‘interrupted’ the conversation and told them it was a home run.
“The look on our girls’ faces was priceless! But I always believe in “Just get it correct,” even if it goes against us.
And go against the Jaguars it did, as the umpires then reversed their decision and awarded Webster Groves (Mo.) High School’s Madyson Stallcup a home run. And that was the difference in the game, as visiting Webster Groves went home with a 4-3 win.
After the call was reversed, one of the Seckman players joked with Bonastia that he should have let the call stand. But that’s not his style.
“I explained to the girls that it was the right thing to do – that if they were the ones who hit it they would want someone to do that for them,” he said. “I explained that I have always believed in doing the right thing, even if in this case it may have cost the game.”
“I may be a lot of things, but I am not dishonest. In coaching I always believed there is a fine line between winning and doing the right thing. I always try to the right thing. What comes out of this the most for the girls is that same approach. It may not always go in your favor, but do the right thing, you will not regret it.”
The effort was not lost on the opposing team, either.
“They literally and figuratively handed us our win, for the sake of honesty and integrity,” Webster Groves senior Kate Wylie said. “This was tremendous sportsmanship and grace on the part of the coaches and the entire Seckman team, something that should not only be praised, but exemplified for programs everywhere.”
But the integrity and overruling the umpire was just a small part of what turned out to be a very emotional, and successful, day at the ballpark.
At the start of the academic year, district teacher Shelley Ahner was diagnosed with cancer. She died just six weeks after the diagnosis, leaving behind two teenaged daughters. Everything happened so quickly, Ahner didn’t have time to get all of her paperwork in order.
Originally, Seckman was going to raise money for cancer research and donate it to a research facility. But after hearing Ahner’s story, the focus shifted onto how the team could help the family.
“She had not filled out the proper paper work to retire, so she lost a lot of money for her family,” Bonastia said. “When our superintendent heard we were doing a cancer night and donating the proceeds to Shelley, she sent out a district-wide announcement for a dress down day and all donations would go to her family.”
The district responded overwhelmingly, raising more than $10,000 – all of which was donated to Ahner’s two daughters.
The softball team also decided to hold a “Pink Out” game, in which the entire Seckman team donned pink jerseys made especially for the occasion. The game – against Webster Groves – was the culminating event of the fundraising effort.
“The Pink Out game idea came from my assistant, Jim Claxton,” Bonastia said. “He had done one with the basketball program and asked if we should do one also. I agreed due to so many people going through it. It was dear to me because both my sister-in-laws who are under 40 have cancer.
“The girls were all for it. They all know or have heard of someone suffering with cancer. They went all out selling the shirts and promoting the game. They wanted to do this particular one because they really wanted to wear the pink jerseys. They even have one for myself. And trust me, pink Under Armour does not look the best on a big guy!”
The shirt sales (175 shirts sold), ticket sales and game-day concessions netted an additional $900 for Ahner’s family.
And Bonastia might not be done with his big pink Under Armour jersey – the plan is for the Pink Out game to become an annual event.
Honesty and integrity, though, are daily events. And Bonastia and his Seckman Jaguars are the perfect embodiment of that.
“I have been around sports my entire life,” he said. “I am one who is always listening or asking people who have been around it for a long time. One of the things I always hear is, ‘Respect the game and your opponents.’
“I’m hoping our team receives the same. I have seen coaches run up the score, chastise opponents, trash talk and disrespect the game. I have learned not to do that. I am an emotional coach, loud, but I love working with the kids, and hope people pick up on the respect for the game that I have. I hope they not only learn about the sport, but get a few life lessons also.”
Judging from the response, they do – whether it’s his team or his opponent.
“I really hope we can display this kind of sportsmanship, good play, and general good humanity like Seckman showed us today,” Webster senior Wylie said. “Being a good softball player is one thing; being a good human being is another.”
The Good in Sports is honored to highlight Coach Steve Bonastia with its prestigious GAME CHANGER AWARD. In honor of the coach’s hard work, The Good in Sports will be awarding the Coach with a couple of GAME CHANGER t-shirts; one for him and one for him to award to a select player that best represents his passion both on and off the field.
- Do you know of a Game Changer like Coach Bonastia? Nominate them!