By Olivia Granaiola
Senior Kaelynn Ayala has been attending P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School since Kindergarten. This year, Ayala will leave the school and embark on a new journey outside of Gainesville, Florida.
But, as Ayala leaves the memories of the school that built her behind, she will leave another very important aspect of her life with it.
Ayala has played softball since she was eight years old. She started out in the Gainesville City and Rec Ball leagues, but as most things in her life, Ayala wanted a constant.
“She’s always wanted to be a pitcher, since day one,” said her father, Jim.
Having found success as a youngster playing organized softball, Ayala wanted to further her career during her middle school stage. P.K. Yonge allows children in 6th grade to begin trying out for varsity sports.
“Kaelynn was terrified to try out,” said Jim.
After all, it was rare for a sixth grader to make the team, especially a team who aspired to reach the state championship with star players already stacking the roster. In the end, the accurate pitcher earned a spot in her inaugural middle school year.
“First of all, I never would have even gone to the tryouts in 6th grade if it wasn’t for my dad,” she said. “He was the one that pushed me to give it a shot and see what happened. When I looked on the roster the night after tryouts in 6th grade and saw my name, I was so shocked and excited because I never thought I would make the team so young.”
And in case you were wondering, that team did in fact reach the state championship game in 2014 and finished as Class 4A state runners-up, losing to Pensacola’s West Florida, 6-5, after giving up five runs in the bottom of the 7th.
“Overall, it was an awesome experience because all the games leading up to it were an example of how the game should be played,” she said. “Although we lost that game, it is a game that I will always remember because it is a reflection of softball as a whole. The main thing that I took from that game was that other team can come back just as fast and that is something I have remembered and played the game by.”
The close one-run loss in the title game helped mold her into the player she is today.
“It is one of the main reasons that I play the way I do,” she explained. “When I play I tend to have very level emotions, meaning I never get too excited and I never get too down when the team is losing. They (West Florida) came back and won the game in the last two outs of the last inning and that was a huge learning experience for me because I know what the ups and downs feel like.”
The next year, Ayala primarily served as a “live batter,” throwing to her teammates with whom she had reached the state championship just one year before.
Unfortunately for the pitcher, a rotator cuff injury sidelined her for the rest of the season, where the P.K. Yonge Blue Wave went 25-4. Seventh grade would be the last year Kaelynn would be on a winning team.
“Most of the coaches and star players moved on to other schools, but Kaelynn chose to stay at P.K. Yonge,” said Jim.
This year, the Blue Wave are 2-9.
Jim said, “The team is struggling to stay relevant.”
Ayala is the last player on a team of just nine girls to know what the Blue Wave’s glory days were on the softball diamond. And while she still has six letterman years under her belt, the fall from grace must be tough to swallow in the final year of her softball career.
Next year, Ayala will attend the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Her time at P.K. Yonge, highlighted by her time on the softball team, will come to an end.
“Being a lifer, there are so many memories that come to mind from being at the school so long and on the softball team for 7 years now,” she noted. “I think the thing that I remember most, is the relationships that I made with the older girls when I was in my middle school years. It was not only a great experience to learn from them on the field but the relationships extended off the field and made the overall time so much more memorable.”
Kaelynn Ayala will carry those memories, and the experience as a sixth grader on a star team, with her forever. But it all started with one influential person.
“My dad is my biggest supporter and has taught me everything I know about the game,” she said.
The P.K. Yonge softball team will be our guests on The Prep Zone radio show on Monday, April 2, from 7-8 p.m. You can listen to the show on 92.1 FM & 1230 AM in Gainesville, and online at ThePrepZone.com.