Sports

Order out of chaos

Brittany Wisner has become a vocal leader on a talented Bainbridge team.  - Brad Camp/File Photo
Brittany Wisner has become a vocal leader on a talented Bainbridge team.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File Photo

Brittany Wisner has overcome a nightmare childhood to be a standout member of the Bainbridge fastpitch team.

When people talk about Brittany Wisner, one of the first things they mention is how hard she works and how much she talks – which is quite a bit.

“She’s loud, but in a good way,” teammate and friend Lindsay Willmann said.

Head coach Liz McCloskey said she was impressed with her from the moment she appeared on the field, even to the consternation of others.

“Some people questioned my thought of putting her on varsity because she was very outspoken because some people perceive that as being cocky and having a big head,” she said. “But that’s just her being a leader and loving the game and putting everything she has into it.”

Currently, Brittany is a starter for the Bainbridge fastpitch team and has been since her first game as a freshman at second base, quickly moving over to catcher and ensconcing herself at the position en route to being a two-year captain, a two-time All-Metro and All-Kitsap News Group selection.

That recognition comes from how hard she works at improving her overall game, from hitting off the pitching machine to fielding endless grounders to work on her overall fitness level.

She’s even taken part in Bodylink of Poulsbo’s Frappier Acceleration training program designed to improve speed and power in athletes.

“That (training program) is like a Marine Corps boot camp,” her grandfather Max said. “(But) anything she goes after” she goes all out.

Her willingness to go all out stems from her personality.

“I’m always pushing myself to be better,” she said.

She’s also her own toughest critic, continually finding little things that she feels she can improve on.

Even though she’s done well in high school – she posted a line of a .389 batting average, a .455 on-base percentage and a .639 slugging percentage her freshman year, then a line of .309/.434/.481 her sophomore year – she says she’s never satisfied with what she does.

“I could hit a triple or be 4 for 4 and there’s always something I can do that’s better,” Brittany said.

McCloskey said she does have to calm her down from time to time so as not to get herself down, but is impressed with how hard she works all the time.

“She wants to improve every day,” she said. “She wants to learn something new every day.

“I think she would be in the gym 24 hours a day if someone was with her.”

Willmann feels her work ethic helps motivate those around her to improve their own game.

“You see her working hard and you think ‘maybe I should do that too,’” she said.

Her grandmother Ann said she completely immerses herself into the game.

“She loves this game more than any person I have ever seen in my life,” she said. “She’s very motivated. Very motivated.

“She has her mind made up. She has goals set for herself and what she wants to do.”

To that extent, she’s written a list that’s two pages long and filled with every goal she can think of, which she is constantly working on and improving.

“Softball has always been my passion,” Brittany said. “I was swinging a bat as soon as I could walk.”

Some would observe that Brittany’s love of the game comes not only naturally, but genetically.

Both Ann and Max played baseball (Max played professionally for four years, signing with Detroit when he was 17) and both coached Little League on the island for many years.

Ann was also the JV softball coach at BHS from 1983 to 1987 when they played slowpitch for five years, umpired for many years and her and Frank Willmann started the Blazers, a local select team.

Her daughter, Heidi, was a three-sport star at Bainbridge High, playing soccer, basketball and softball for all four years.

“Baseball’s in the Wisner blood,” Ann said.

Ann was her coach when Brittany started with tee ball when she was five, and moved to Little League soon thereafter. But she became truly enamored with the game when she was in the seventh grade.

She started at second base for many years, but started catching three years ago when there wasn’t a good selection of catchers on her select team.

“Every pitch was a passed ball,” she said. “So one day at practice I said ‘Hey Coach, let me catch.’ So I tried it (and) found out I wasn’t half bad.

“The next year I was on a different select team – not as a hitter, I was a bench player - but by the end of the season I was batting third and catching every game.”

What is impressive about Brittany catching is that she calls her own game – a rarity on the high school. Most coaches call pitches from the dugout, with only a few catchers calling their own game.

But McCloskey said she was comfortable letting Brittany call her own game – as McCloskey did when she played for Bainbridge from 1996 to 1999.

“She does a great job and she probably does it better than I could,” she said. “I never hesitated to let her do it.”

Ann said she religiously studies a three-page handout one of her select coaches gave to her.

Brittany said it’s very important for her to call her own game.

“It’s my game,” she said. “I know my pitcher better than anyone else does. I’m right there and I can see what the batter does.

“I have confidence in myself and I think I call a pretty good game.”

Willmann is appreciative of having someone like Brittany behind the plate.

“If you don’t have a good relationship, it’s not going to go smoothly at all,” she said. “You have to rely on each other and trust each other during the games.”

Thanks to that trust, work and talent, Brittany’s at the forefront of a Spartan team that’s 8-0 and looking like a contender for a state trophy.

“I didn’t know what to expect coming into the season,” she said. “But we’ve got a good group of girls and everyone works hard. We all have that same goal, we all have that same dream. We all want to get somewhere.

But to get to this point, she’s taken a long journey through some hard times that would have taken down a lesser person.

“I’ve experienced more in my 16 years than a lot of people do in their entire life.” Wisner said.

She’s not exaggerating.

A dark past

Ask a question of Brittany’s personable grandmother Ann, such as, “Was Brittany always an outgoing child?” and you’ll get a long and lively answer, but one that comes as a surprise.

“Brittany came to live with us (Ann and her husband, Max) at five,” she said. “She had a tremendous(ly) horrible, horrible life.

“She was terribly abused as a child,” Ann continued.

The details come, but it’s not easy to do when one looks back on a past full of painful memories that can’t always be neatly tucked away as the years go by.

Born in 1991 in Seattle, Wisner lived for her first six years what can simply be called a living hell.

“My living situation was awful,” she said. “My mother was addicted to meth, heroin, cocaine... my father was (an addict and) a raging alcoholic. There’s huge drug addiction (problems) and alcoholism on my mom’s side of the family.

“It just never stopped. It was (happening) all the time – still is.”

When her parents weren’t fighting or physically and emotionally abusing her, they were out of their apartment looking to score drugs, often leaving Brittany to fend for herself.

“I remember a lot,” she said, declining further details of the abuse. “(But) it was just normal to me. It was what I was born into.

“That’s how I thought childhood was supposed to be, I guess.”

Ann wouldn’t go on the record with details either, but what few things she did reveal would make anyone sick.

“She’s just had a hard life,” she said. “She hated adults and didn’t trust them because the only ones she’s ever known were drug addicts.

“She was put into some perilous situations,” Ann continued.

Finally, Ann and Max had had enough, and went to court to fight their son for custody of Brittany.

For two and a half years, Brittany’s grandparents and parents battled it out in court.

“It was a fight,” Ann said. “Her parents were fighting us. It was really hard.

“We have total permanent custody of her,” Ann continued. “But her parents still have their parental rights.”

When Ann and Max finally brought Brittany into their home, the resulting culture shock was a bit much for her to handle at first.

“I had people that made me dinner,” she said. “That was like, ‘whoa!’ That was a big deal.

“I had people tuck me in at night,” Brittany said. “It was a big deal for me and I wasn’t used to it. At first it was very weird and I wasn’t used to it. I would throw fits.”

“I think she was extremely happy to be with us because we weren’t strangers, but she just had a real mistrust of people,” Max said. “She didn’t like anybody and she wanted to crawl into her shell.

“It’s been really hard,” Ann said. “Imagine losing your parents at age five and never seeing them again. And all of a sudden your new parents have white hair.”

All the changes made Brittany very quiet, a complete change from the outgoing and opinionated person she is now.

“I was a very shy child for two years,” she said. “Which is weird, because you look at me (now) and you don’t think I was ever a shy kid.”

Ann and Max got Brittany into counseling to help her deal with the after-effects of the abuse, and the nine years in therapy helped ease the pain.

There were teachers that also reached out. “Kathy Dunn in kindergarten, Sharon Pratt out at Wilkes, they just paid attention to her — not in an overbearing way, but in a comforting way,” Max said.

Those teachers helped Brittany come out of her shell.

Ann remembers how excited she was to get up in front of the class and tell a story or read poetry.

“She just loved it,” she said. “When Max and I would come to listen to her, she was so excited to get up there and tell a story. She just loved it.”

And there was a youth minister that became like a dad to Brittany. “He was the greatest guy,” she said. “He taught me everything I know.”

Her faith has become a strong part of her life, along with softball, helping her firm up her beliefs and morals and get her through some hard times.

It’s also helped Brittany deal with what she went through at an early age.

“I’ve just always accepted the fact that God has control and God has a plan for me,” she said. “He knows what He’s doing and I trust that.”

Though she was an only child for much of her life, she now has a little brother in Jaden, now four, who she spends time with when she can and enjoys a great relationship with.

Brittany also has a half-sister in 2-year-old Sierra, but she hasn’t met her yet.

“He (Jaden) keeps me going,” Brittany said. “He’s a little sparkplug – very cute kid. I love him to death. We have a strong bond.

“I don’t get to see him that often, but when I do get to see him, it’s nice.”

But she doesn’t see her parents anymore.

Her dad got clean after Jaden’s birth, but recently got into some legal trouble and she hasn’t heard from him. She and her dad tried to build a relationship when she was 10 and again when she was 12, but he was in and out of her life.

When she was 13, she was old enough to make her own decision about who she wanted to see, so she went and told them she didn’t want to see her dad anymore.

Ann said she hasn’t seen her mom since she was six and doesn’t know where her dad is now. She thinks he may be homeless.

Brittany said she’s unsure if she’ll ever have a relationship with them or even talk to them again.

“That’s something I’m still dealing with,” she said. “I want to let go of that, but a lot of me is still very angry and isn’t quite over it yet. I don’t know if that’s something I can deal with.

“I just don’t know yet.”

A bright future

What she does know is that she won’t go down that road, using her past as motivation to better herself and her future.

“It’s that desire to be better than anything that they (her parents) ever were,” Brittany said. “Be the better daughter, better parent, better friend, better student, better anything than they ever were.”

Not only does she help others around her improve, but she helps people in general deal with their problems.

Many come to her for advice from how to handle someone’s drinking problem to dealing with a divorce to smaller things that can trip anyone up.

Teammate and friend Haylee Baker said she’s formed a bond with Brittany over her own past (she grew up in a single-parent home for most of her life) and their similar personalities.

“Whenever we go somewhere with our select teams, we’ll just sit in the hot tub and talk for hours about our lives,” she said. “That’s how we bonded.

“She keeps everybody up,” Baker said. “She’s pretty upbeat. I think what she went through has helped her be a strong person.”

Willmann said she also confides in her as well.

“She’s a really understanding person,” she said. “If you ask her to keep something a secret, she’ll do it. She’s really trustworthy.”

Brittany said she’s fine with helping others out.

“Helping others and giving back – it takes the focus off myself and makes me feel better,” she said. “People tell me I’m a natural leader.”

Ann concurred.

“No matter what group she’s around, no matter where she goes, everyone just gravitates to Brittany,” she said.

But she said she’s got a big support system, from her group of friends to her grandparents.

“I owe everything to them,” she said. “If they wouldn’t have rescued me, I probably wouldn’t have made it through that living situation.”

She also appreciates McCloskey, who she feels is the big sister she never had.

“She inspires me,” Brittany said. “She’s always willing to help me no matter what. She cares about me more than almost any adult ever has and it’s something I’m so grateful for and I probably don’t deserve.

“I would not be the person I am and I definitely wouldn’t be the softball player I am now.”

Ann said she and Max are proud of what Brittany has accomplished in her life and how far she’s come.

“Max and I worked really, really hard (with her and) this is what we get,” she said. “Just by giving her all the confidence in the world and the patience and the understanding and believing in her – she’s just this little angel that fell from heaven. She really is. She’s a great kid.”

Soon, she’ll be off to college (Whitworth is interested) and she’s thinking about a career in communications, journalism or teaching.

She uses her past for motivation rather than dwelling on it and letting it dominate her life.

“I just really focus on the present,” she said. “I always work hard in the now.

“I know I will be 500 times the mother that my mom has been (and) ever was. I’m not going down that route.”

And softball will always be there – whether she keeps playing or eventually coaches somewhere.

She even feels the effects when she goes without playing for a while.

“I get cranky, I’m in a bad mood all the time,” she said. “Everybody notices. “Softball keeps me happy. When I’m on the softball field, that’s when I’m the happiest.”

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