OKLAHOMA CITY – USA Softball of Florida Junior Olympic (JO) Commissioner, Dwayne Sealy, encountered an inspiring young lady named Madison Smith as he wandered between fields at the Southeast Junior Olympic (JO) Cup Qualifier held in Clearwater, Fla. Madison, a member of Florida Impact ’06 – Weston, was seen warming up with her teammates despite physical limitations that confined her to a wheelchair.
“I saw a player dressed in full uniform riding a motorized wheelchair with a bat bag attached to the back and instantly thought she was probably just bringing the wheelchair to someone inside the ballpark,” said Sealy. “Then later on, I saw her still in the wheelchair while she was on the field warming up with her team. It was incredible.”
Madison, a 14-year-old resident of Pembroke Pines, Fla., was born with a neuromuscular disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and has been in a wheelchair since she was two years old. However, that has never stopped her from being a part of the game of softball.
“Madison’s natural athletic ability just can’t be denied,” said Madison’s mom, Jennifer Smith. “There’s so many things in her life that she is unable to do because of her physical disability, but she refuses to let softball be one of those things.”
Madison was introduced to the sport of softball at an early age by her parents, Jennifer and Aaron Smith, who both played sports throughout college and participated in coed softball during Madison’s childhood. Madison would join her parents at the softball fields during their coed games and quickly began developing a love for the game. Her parents always tossed whiffle balls at her and played catch with her, which only strengthened Madison’s passion for the game and led to a determination to live out her dreams.
“I’ve loved the game of softball for so long,” said Madison. “Ever since I started playing, I’ve wanted to do everything I can to be better and always be a part of the game.”
At the age of nine, Madison joined the Plantation Pressure 10-Under team after tagging along with her neighbor for the team tryout. The coach, Pete Bilinski, immediately recognized Madison’s passion for the game and said, “I’d love to have her be a part of the team.”
Due to her physical limitations, Madison’s participation was limited but coaches and umpires always worked to find a way to include her on the field as much as possible, which often resulted in games being extended an extra inning to give Madison the opportunity to pinch run and sometimes even score the final run of the game.
“Those were all moments that we will remember forever,” said Jennifer. “Seeing her join her first team and even be able to participate in the game at certain points was a dream come true for her.”
At the age of 12, the Plantation Pressure dissolved and Madison began searching for a new team to join when she came across the Florida Impact ’06 –– Weston. Madison tried out for the Florida Impact in the fall of 2018 and has been a member of the team ever since.
“It was honestly terrifying having to go through the tryout process,” said Jennifer. “Being a mom and knowing that my daughter really physically can’t play is just so nerve-racking because it’s easy for coaches to say that this isn’t the sport or league for her, but we feel so blessed that the softball community has embraced her the way that they have.”
Due to the competitive competition at the 14-Under level, Madison’s ability to be a part of the on-field action is minimal, however, her dedication to the game remains constant. She attends every practice –– and with the help of her teammates –– is able to participate in batting rotations, fielding fly balls, playing catch, and baserunning. On her Christmas wish list? Private hitting lessons.
“Madison wants to be a part of everything that her teammates are a part of,” said Jennifer. “She does just about everything they do, just with certain accommodations, which her coaches and teammates are always so helpful with.”
In addition to being a part of the Florida Impact team, Madison has also attended various softball camps including the Lightning Camp held at Cypress Bay High School. The camp now awards the “Most Valuable Player” each week with the “Madison Smith” award due to Madison’s admirable involvement in the camp throughout previous years.
“Madison is such a great example and role model for athletes in our sport,” said Florida Impact team manager, Brad Bond. “She is always excited to be on the field and never complains about anything. In fact, sometimes she tells the coaches to go harder on her at practice because she wants to get better, and that’s what we do. We hold her accountable and treat her just like our other athletes, because that’s what Madison is –– an athlete.”