Tae Courtney led the Gwynn Park softball team through a series of throwing exercises last week in the gymnasium. Although the Yellow Jackets again were inside instead of on their rain-soaked field, it was fitting that Courtney was in the place that has been the foundation for her family's athletic success for more than half a century at the Brandywine school.
It began 56 years ago with Courtney's grandmother and great aunt, Betty and Dorothy Xander, who were the starting back court for the Yellow Jackets' basketball team that won the Class D title in 1947 to produce the school's first state championship in a girls' sport. In the late 1990s, Courtney's older sister, Shannon, practiced in the same, dimly lighted gymnasium on rainy spring days. Shannon was an All-Met and won a scholarship to Elon (N.C.) College.
"A lot of my family members have played in this gym and done some great things for Gwynn Park," Tae said , as her father .Wes, one of the team's co-coaches, worked with her teammates. "It's something I think about, not all the time, but my family has a lot of history here."
Tae Courtney has made sure to leave her mark with what could be one of the most impressive softball careers in state history.
The senior right-hander began the week 6-0 with two no-hitters and three one-hitters. She had yet to give up an earned run and had 60 strikeouts in 30 innings. Her four-year record is 57-4 with 23 no-hitters, 32 shutouts and a career earned run average of 0.30. Courtney is eight no-hitters and 11 shutouts shy of the state record.
At the plate, she began the week hitting .500 (14 for 28) with 12 RBI and 5 doubles, which give her a state record of 35 for her career.
However, Courtney's accomplishments are often tempered by the fact that many have come against foes in the Prince George's 3A/2A/1A League, regarded as one of the state's weakest conferences.
"I know what league she plays in, but that doesn't take away from how good she is," said McDonough Coach Phil Cuellar, who has coached Courtney in summer league for eight years and whose Rams (7-0) are tied for first place in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, one of the area's best leagues.
"If Tae was on my team, she'd start for me, too. She could be even better because she'd have a better defense behind her."
But Courtney said does not worry what people think of her feats because she cannot control what school she attends or the level of Gwynn Park's competition.
"That's just Tae for you," senior right fielder Alexis Leventhal said. "She never talks about her stats and what she's done, even though she's the best player on our team. She's selfless. She's always helping the rest of us get better."
Courtney's life does not revolve around sports. Even when she was in elementary school, she often missed much of recess to work on her daily journal. Now, she spends more time studying than going out with friends.
"She never even watches television. When she gets home, she just goes into her room and closes the door and studies, and I won't see her the rest of the night," said oldest sister Kelly, who played third base on McDonough's 1996 championship team before her family moved to Prince George's the next year. "She's the most dedicated of all of us, and she'll reap the rewards because of it."
Courtney, who has a grade-point average of 4.54 and is on pace to be valedictorian, will attend Bucknell next year with the intention of working toward law school. Courtney, who relies on placement of her seven pitches instead of trying to throw her fastball by hitters, said she is uncertain whether she will pursue the sport in college.
"Sports have always been a big part of my life and in my family," she said. "I would be nice to go out with a state championship. But if that doesn't happen, I've still had a lot of fun."