Before a big game for the Bryant Lady Hornets in the 2018 Class 7A State Tournament in Cabot, the players were circled in foul ground between their dugout and home plate. In the middle was their feisty junior catcher, down on all fours, bucking and kicking like a wild bronco. Her teammates laughed, hooting and hollering as the dust flew.
They may have been about to play the most important game of their season, but they were loose and having fun. No pressure.
Meagan Chism made sure of that.
“Whether she’s had a bad day, good day, two hours of sleep, it doesn’t matter,” said Lady Hornets head coach Lisa Dreher. “She brings the energy and leadership and reminds us all why we’re out there.”
Rewind back a couple of years. Before her freshman season at Bryant High, Chism was already drawing attention from college programs. She and her once-and-future battery mate, pitcher Gianni Hulett made a visit to the University of Memphis and she verbally committed.
That verbal commitment became official with her signing to continue her softball and her academic career as an NCAA Division I recruit with Memphis on Friday, Nov. 16.
But that future and her all-State career at BHS, which still has another season to it next spring, were in deep doubt before her sophomore season.
“I was at a practice indoors,” she recalled. “I didn’t have a helmet on and we were taking cuts. And our coach was showing a drill with the tee and he went to swing, and I took a step in and his bat actually struck me in the face.
“It was clearly my fault,” Chism asserted. “I was like, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ But I really wasn’t. I went to the hospital and they gave me eight stitches. I had a mild concussion.
“When they took the CT to make sure everything was okay, they said they had found a mass,” she continued. “At that time, I had braces so when I went to take an MRI to see what it was exactly, it was blurred because of the metal. So, we had to wait another couple of weeks, got my braces off and had to go back. At this point, we’re scared to death because we have no clue.”
One can only imagine the heartache and fear that her parents, Donnie and Mary Chism, went through, finding out their beautiful, athletic, 16-year-old daughter had a brain tumor.
“When they looked at my clear MRI, they called it a Ganglioglioma,” Meagan Chism continued. “I think they said it was about 11 millimeters wide so it’s about the size of a grape. And it is benign so it’s not spreading to other parts of my body. It has the potential to grow but we’ve been tracking it ever since and there’s been no change.”
She acknowledged that it didn’t have anything to do with her being hit in the head except the fact that the incident led to the scans that revealed it all.
“It was like God pushed me in front of that bat,” Chism said.
“It definitely scared me, knowing that there’s something in my head that’s not supposed to be there,” she related. “You don’t know if it’s going to grow and, if it grows, they said there’s a chance I could have a seizure and what if I’m driving and there’s all sorts of stuff that was going on in my head.”
That revelation was just the worst part of a rugged day for Meagan.
“As a freshman, she played everything except catcher,” Dreher said. “As a sophomore, I realized a week or two before our season was about to start that we had not broken through to her. She didn’t seem to have bought into the system at all and I told her she probably wasn’t going to play catcher for us unless she had a dramatic change in how she did things and stuff like that.
“So, it was a bad day for her,” the coach continued. “And walking away from her after I told her that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a coach. She was not in good place.
“But she came back a different person,” Dreher said.
“Honestly, (the tumor) really pushed me to realize, you don’t know when’s the last time you’re going to step on a softball field,” Chism stated. “Like tomorrow, I could get in a car wreck and never be able to play softball again. So, it really pushed me to, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, always do the absolute best I can because you might not get the chance again.
“I’ve always had energy. I’ve always had a smile on my face. It intimidates folks that don’t like you,” she quipped. “I smile through everything. If you’re positive in life, what’s it worth? It’s not really worth it if you’re not happy, not enjoying it.”
Said Dreher, “Now, she’s everything a coach could want in a catcher. She’s vocal. She’s a leader on and off the field. This is what a student-athlete is. I don’t know what her GPA is but it’s up there, GT classes. Don’t worry about it.
“I have to give Memphis props because, looking at her, you don’t see a D-I player,” she added. “Only 1.4 percent of players that play high school ball get to play at the D-I level. When they all come in (to high school), they all want to play D-I.
“But she’s got some grit,” the coach said. “She does everything textbook, blocking — they take hits back there but it’s not like it used to be. They’ve got to get down and stuff. If you’re doing everything textbook, you won’t run into that.
“She’s super hard-headed. That hasn’t changed. But she’s been a joy to coach and I have no doubt she’ll be successful and help Memphis.”
That’s just half the story too. Her hitting has been superb. She’s been the leader or among the leaders in every offensive category every season. In the last two years, she phenomenally has only struck out once.
“That’s the most amazing stat to me,” Dreher said.
“Hitting is a mental game, completely,” Chism asserted. “I mean, you may be in a slump and it has nothing to do with your mechanics. It’s all mental. And I’ve gone through that several times. You just have to realize, you put in the time; you put in the effort, and you’ve worked hard ever since you were 4-years old to become the player that you’ve become. You just have to trust your work and know that, when you get in the box, there’s no more thinking about your mechanics. It’s thinking, you see that pitch, and you’re thinking Go or No. And that’s it. You trust everything else.
“I plan to get better,” she insisted.
Summer coaches Jack Hulett and Jason Rentera, along with Richard “Stick” Weaver, through a text to Tonya Hulett, along with Gianni Hulett spoke during Chism’s signing ceremony. Meagan thanked her parents, her coaches, friends and teammates.
Regarding the school, she said, “Their campus is beautiful. Their softball program is pretty much everything I’ve strived to look for as an athlete. Their coaching is phenomenal. Not to mention, they actually have the degree I would like to pursue, which is Ophthalmology.
“It’s perfect. Just far enough away from home and just close enough.”
And part of the recruiting for a college softball player is versatility. Chism fits the bill.
“My coach, when she recruited me off the softball field, she actually watched me play third base, but she knew I was a catcher. She recruited me as a catcher but also as a utility player. So, I could get there, and they may need me at third base; they may need me in the outfield; they may need me as a catcher; they may need me as a DH. That’s just part of it. Honestly, I don’t care where they play me, I just want to play softball.”
She’s been playing since she was 4.
“The first year I played, my parents almost took me out I was so bad,” Chism recalled. “I was playing around in the dirt. At 10-and-under, it was really fun. I loved to play with my friends then my friends started realizing that’s not what they wanted to do. So, they went off. I struggled with not having friends until I realized that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to play softball. Through 12-and-under, it became less of a sport and more of a job. It was more ‘I have to do this, I have to do that.’ When I hit about 14-and-under and I had made my college commitment, I realized that, this is fun. Now that everything’s over, with all the recruiting processes, all the camps, all the money — I could just sit back and have fun. I really started to appreciate the game around 14-and-under. That’s when it hit me that this is my life. This is what I want to do.”