By Doug DeBiase
Assistant Commissioner/Strategic Communications
Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference
At first glance, the softball programs at both Felician College and North Central Texas College (NCTC) might not feature much – if anything – in common.
Felician, which is located in Rutherford, N.J., is an NCAA Division II member that competes in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC), while NCTC (located in Gainesville, Texas) is a junior college that competes in the NJCAA.
However, both programs are comprised of college student-athletes, and regardless of the classification, there is a bond that exists between those individuals as they are the ones that only know what it is like to balance the rigors of academics, athletics, traveling long distances, and representing their institutions with class and dignity on and off the field.
That is why the collective heart of the Felician softball program sank Friday night and into early Saturday morning when news broke that four members of the NCTC softball program passed away in a traffic accident when the team was returning home from a fall exhibition game.
"We may not personally know the members of the North Central Texas College softball program, but we consider them our sisters and that is why the news was so terrible to hear," Felician senior infielder Taylor Parker said. "Not many people get to experience being a student-athlete, so when we heard about the traffic accident, and that it happened while the team was traveling together, it made it all the worse to hear because we know what it's like with the demands of traveling from game to game."
Senior outfielder Chelsea DeGuzman echoed her classmate's sentiments.
"I have gotten on a bus several times to travel with my teammates to a game, but I've never thought that something like that would happen to me. When you hear the news it hits home because you're both thankful that you have been able to travel safely so many times before, but also sad because the situation is too much to comprehend."
According to media reports, the NCTC softball team was traveling back to its Gainesville, Texas campus on the evening of Friday, Sept. 26, when it was involved in an accident with a semi-truck on Interstate-35 in Southern Oklahoma. Brooke Deckard, 20; Jaiden Pelton, 20; Meagan Richardson, 19; and Katelynn Woodlee, 18; were killed in the accident, while several other individuals sustained injuries.
News of the tragedy quickly began to surface in various media outlets and on Twitter, where a friend of Taylor's saw it and alerted her early Saturday morning.
"I was speechless when I heard about it," Taylor said. "We all were."
The Felician softball team met later that day in stunned silence, but as the shock began to wear off the team knew it wanted to act to show its support for the NCTC program.
The Golden Falcons researched the school and found its colors were blue and red, and quickly decided to wear blue ribbons during its practices and fall games over the course of the next week to raise awareness of the accident.
The softball team's quest didn't end there, as it spread word to other squads on the Felician campus to rally support. The response was terrific, and soon student-athletes from other sports were wearing the blue ribbons, while joining softball in making monetary donations that will ultimately go to a fund supporting the families of the deceased.
"All of the athletes at Felician have been amazing this past week by showing support for North Central Texas College," DeGuzman said. "Initially, we didn't know if it would just be our team supporting the school. It was definitely exciting to see all Felician teams supporting the cause."
The support has not ended at the doors of the athletic department, but has quickly spread across the entire campus, as both athletes said they have been approached by various members of the school looking to donate and wear the blue ribbon in support.
"Everyone wants to donate," Taylor said. "I think a lot of people are seeing that we as student-athletes care about each other like family."
The approximate total of money raised to date is in the hundreds, but a final tally will not be available until early next week.
While the efforts of the Golden Falcons have been impressive to date, the team still has plans of raising even more awareness and funds for NCTC. That will come about this Sunday when Felician plays William Paterson University in a fall exhibition of its own. The Golden Falcon student-athletes plan to sell the blue ribbons at the game to the fans in attendance as to spread their mission even further to groups off campus.
"We hope that word of how people can help will spread outside of our campus community," Taylor said. "The more people that know, the more can be done for the grieving families. We want those families to know that we share in their sadness, but also that we want to help in anyway possible."
North Central Texas College has opened a pair of funds to help benefit the families and its softball program. Anyone interested in donating can learn more by visiting the institution's official website at http://www.nctc.edu/ (.)