Not many coaches have a player turn in their uniform for the season, only to offer it back to that athlete for an IHSA Final Four tournament.
But then not many coaches have a Phoenix Peth on their team.
Peth is a Bartlett senior who has been a Hawks’ softball player since her freshman year. But in September of 2011, her softball career and her life took an unfortunate turn when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
Treatment and a transplant brought Peth into remission, where she stands today. She still takes medication and sees her doctor monthly, but she’s currently cancer free.
“(The transplant) is working perfectly,” she says.
Feeling well enough to play softball, Peth came out for the Hawks’ varsity this season, made the team and had 4 hits in 15 at-bats and 3 RBI early in the season.
About two months ago, though, she was dealt another blow by cancer when her mom, Lori Schantz, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Helping care for her mom, including taking her to treatments and doctor appointments, took its toll on the 18-year old Hanover Park resident.
“A couple weeks ago she came to me and said she just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith. “She had to quit the team and she turned in her uniform. It was sad. She tries real hard. Being away from the game her junior year affected her skills some but she’s a great kid and everything was going well until her mom developed cancer. She had to miss things and it took its toll on her.”
But then Wolfsmith started seeing Peth at some games again and after he saw her at the Hawks’ 4-1 win over Maine West in the Rosemont supersectional Monday night, he sent her a text message asking if she’d like to go downstate with the team this weekend.
“She said she’d love to do it,” Wolfsmith said of Peth, who was one of the managers on coach Denise Sarna’s third-place state basketball team this past season, which now gives Peth the good fortune of going to state with two teams in the same school year.
“She wanted to be with the team all along. She’s a great kid who has had to deal with a lot. She’s an inspiration to all of us and she’s such a positive influence on the team. We’re glad to have her with us.”
To Peth, sports has always been a way to get some relief to life’s trials and tribulations, now more so than ever.
“It’s been a getaway for me,” she says. “I’ve always turned to sports when I’ve had a problem but this year it’s really helped. I didn’t feel like a teenager. I could never go out. But then I got to go downstate with basketball. This teaches you lessons. I’ve learned so much through all of this.”
Peth, who plans to begin studying for a degree in Zoology at Southern Illinois in Carbondale in the fall, couldn’t be happier to be headed to the Eastside Centre in East Peoria today, where she will be in uniform in the dugout to support her friends and teammates as they take on Moline in the Class 4A state semifinals.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s such an honor that I’m allowed to be on the bench and be with the team. I love them more than anything.”
The Hawks think pretty highly of Peth, too, and they have discounted their friend’s superstitious nature.
“We really wanted her to be in the dugout with us against Maine West,” said senior Tori Burke, “but she was being superstitious about it. We’ve known her since we were sophomores and we love her. There’s no one nicer and no one more deserving to come with us. She’s going to be the extra spirit we need. She’s inspired all of us to work harder and she’s just a wonderful individual.”
And one who gets to enjoy this weekend’s state softball tournament with her friends and teammates — as a teenager should.
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