High school golf: Sechler getting back in the swing of athletics
Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 16, 2022
By Mike London
SALISBURY — It’s soggy, a downright unpleasant Wednesday afternoon at McCanless Golf Club, but the Rowan County Championships are scheduled.
The schedule is tight. The regionals are coming up. The show must go on.
A dark-haired girl wearing a black skirt and white shirt is smaller than most of the competition, but she can hammer it a ton off the tee.
She is Kassidy Sechler, a 16-year-old junior at South Rowan. She’s been playing golf for about five months now.
“She crushes it,” said South coach Jeremy Boice when he’s asked about Sechler.
There’s not just pride in his voice — there’s joy.
A lot of things have happened to bring Sechler to McCanless in October.
It’s the summer of 2019, and manager Steve Yang and his assistant coaches are piecing together another all-star team to represent Rowan Little League.
The dark-haired girl from China Grove is maybe 5 feet tall, but she can hit, field, run and throw. Sechler is an easy choice for the 14-member Rowan 12U team.
Six weeks after their first practice, Rowan Little League has swept through the district, state and regional tournaments and even the World Series in Portland, Oregon. They win 17 games in a row. Wearing their yellow “Southeast” jerseys the Rowan County and Mooresville girls beat the best from Louisiana 4-1 in the nationally televised championship game, Rowan Little League rides the strong arm and willpower of Campbell Schaen and some clutch at-bats by Riley Haggas.
Sechler does her share, gets key hits and make good plays along the journey. Like the rest of her teammates, she returns home to applause and hugs and an August parade.
It’s the spring of 2021, and Sechler is a freshman at South Rowan. The third baseman/pitcher is in the starting lineup for coach Dean Mullinax’s varsity softball team. She has a slow start to the season, but by the end of it, Mullinax knows he can count on her. She smacks 11 hits in the Raiders’ last five games. She bats .317 for the season. The sky is the limit.
It’s July 2021, and Sechler can’t get enough softball. Her travel ball team is playing in Hickory. She socks a double. But a few moments later, her head hurts and her heart hurts, and then she passes out. A coach (Lauran McCulloh) who is a Salisbury firefighter administers CPR. She may have saved Sechler’s life.
Over the next 10 days, Sechler is in hospital beds in Hickory, Winston-Salem and Charlotte. For a while, she’s hooked to a ventilator, totally unresponsive, on the critical list.
Word travels fast in the softball community and via social media. In no time, teams from all over the state, and then from all over the country, and then from all over the world are holding prayer vigils for Sechler and playing games to honor her. Even in South Africa, they know who Kassidy Sechler is, and they desperately want her to recover.
Things take a turn for the better when doctors diagnose a genetic heart disease — arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). Sechler’s right ventricle wasn’t pumping enough blood. That led to an irregular heartbeat and the irregular heartbeat nearly led to tragedy.
But it was treatable.
Sechler awoke in a hospital bed to a whole new world. She couldn’t speak with a breathing tube down her throat. On a tablet, she wrote one word: “What.”
That was shorthand for what in the world has happened to me?
Successful surgery installed a defibrillator that regulated the teenager’s heartbeat.
Sechler went home feeling stronger, grateful to be alive, grateful for all the support from her family, old friends and new friends. Grateful for the dollars that were raised to aid with her expenses. Thousands of people not only prayed for her, they bought T-shirts, wristbands, bracelets and stickers. Everyone wanted to help.
Sechler settled into a basically normal life after the surgery, but it’s a life that permits limited physical activity. That’s tough for a girls whose always loved to compete in soccer and basketball, as well as softball.
The toughest time of all was when softball season arrived at South as winter turned to spring in her sophomore year. She served as an assistant coach/manager for the Raiders. It was nice to be back on the softball field and good to be back with her teammates, but there had to be some tears. She still wanted to compete.
Doctors will clear her to play one high school sport — golf.
Golf? Well. maybe.
Sechler and Boice go pretty far back. He was her teacher at China Grove Middle School before she became known to a lot of people as a World Series champion.
“In seventh grade, I had Kassidy for English and social studies, Boice said. “So we’ve known each other for a few years.”
Back in May, with her sophomore year winding down, Boice got a call from Sechler.
“She knew I was the girls golf coach and wanted to know if we could go to Warrior,” Boice said. “She wanted to play golf. She said after the ARVC diagnosis, it was the only sport the doctors would let her do, so she was going to try it. She picked golf up really quickly, but it wasn’t that surprising because she’s an exceptional athlete. The golf swing and the softball swing are very different things, but some parts of it are similar. Kassidy has that strong hip turn from softball, and she can generate power.”
Girls golf is a solid program at South. Nine girls, the county’s largest contingent, came out this year. In a time of declining participation in many sports, especially female participation, Boice is proud of the turnout. He gets some help. One of his helpers is former South boys coach Kurt Culbert. who has a freshman daughter who plays.
Sechler proved to be quite an addition to the team.
“The season has been a real treat,” Boice said. “Lake Norman Charter crushed us last year, and this time we beat them some, and that meant a lot to our girls. They can see how much they’re improving. East Rowan has really good golfers, but we were finishing second or third in the South Piedmont Conference matches and even got within four strokes of East in one match. I like to tell (East coach) Tinsley Merrell that we’re chasing them. We tied Lake Norman Charter for second in the SPC tournament at Crescent.”
Sechler averaged 47 for the nine-hole SPC matches this season. She represented the Raiders on the All-SPC team.
“The biggest obstacle for Kassidy’s game golf right now is her putting, and she’s working hard on that,” Boice said. “But she chips pretty well and she’s very consistent with her 7-iron. With a driver or a 3-wood, she’s going to be long off the tee. The drive is definitely her strong suit,”
The concession that Sechler has to make to her physical limitations is that she rides during matches, while the other girls push their carts.
“That’s the only difference — she’s got a doctor’s note for that,” Boice said. “She’ll be able to ride in the 3A West Regional (Tuesday, at Cedar Rock Country Club in Lenoir), and hopefully, if she qualifies, she’ll be riding in the state tournament.”
The Rowan County Championships at McCanless on Wednesday marked the first time this season that South has played 18 holes.
Usually only five get to play in the matches, but all the Raiders got to participate.
“Eighteen holes was a big test for Kassidy and for all of our girls,” Boice said.
Sechler shot 99. That’s a little over her average, but she couldn’t be too unhappy about breaking 100 in drizzly, wet conditions.
She finished fifth in the county behind East’s co-champs Hannah Waddell and Addison Queen, as well as East’s Emma Cornelison and South’s Ava Blume.
Blume’s cousin, Ella Carden, finished sixth. South was second in the team scoring behind the Mustangs.
Blume and Carden have qualified to join Sechler in the upcoming regional, so South has the opportunity to qualify as a team for the state event at Longleaf in Southern Pines.
Four East girls, including freshman Kaley Pfister, who is also a good softball player, will be playing in the regional.
Boice gets to teach Sechler at South.
She’s in his U.S. history class, where she’s a normal, hard-working student.
“Yes, basically a normal kid, but this is a kid that gone through things not many kids her age have gone through,” Boice said. “Her perspective on things is a little different. Her faith is strong. She’s a miracle, really, and we’re blessed to have her.”