Community shows outpouring of support for young Rowan County softball player
SALISBURY — With their hands clasped and heads dropped down, dozens of local softball players said a collective prayer while standing inside the diamond at the East Rowan High School softball field on Wednesday evening.
Led by Pastor Jeff Cole, the assorted players and coaches asked God to protect and heal Kassidy Sechler, a Rowan County softball player who is in the hospital after suffering a heart-related medical emergency.
“We’re going to ask for our heavenly father and Jesus Christ, his son, to take care of her,” said Cole, whose daughter played on a team with Kassidy years ago.
Many of the players were there to compete in the Rowan Lady Legion’s playoff matchup against Mint Hill. Others came from different teams, stopping by to pray. Several players from Kassidy’s travel softball team, Extreme Performance, also took part.
No matter why they were at the field, everyone stopped for a few moments to think of Kassidy.
The prayer vigil was one of many that have been held by the softball community for Kassidy throughout the week.
Kassidy, a rising sophomore at South Rowan High School, was playing in a tournament with Extreme Performance in Hickory on Saturday morning when she suddenly felt discomfort and needed medical attention in her team’s dugout.
“It was the bottom of the second. We had a good little rally going,” said Brad Wilkinson, who coaches Kassidy on Extreme Performance. “Kas stepped up to the plate and hit a double, which was fantastic and she was excited. She made her way to third base as one of her friends moved her up a base. Then when she came into the dugout, she wasn’t feeling well.”
As emergency medical personnel tended to her, her teammates and coaches formed a circle in the middle of the field.
“In that moment, we went to the one source we knew we could go to and that’s when we took the girls out to the center of the field, with their backs turned to the dugout so they didn’t have the images burned into their mind,” Wilkinson said. “We just dropped to our knees and we prayed.”
Kassidy’s father, Todd Sechler, was driving to Hickory to watch his daughter compete when he received a call no parent ever wants to get.
“It was absolute fear,” he said. “She couldn’t hardly talk so I knew it was very serious. It was suspenseful. I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Kassidy was rushed in an ambulance to Frye Regional Medical Center, where she was stabilized and flown to Brenner’s Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem. That’s where she’s spent the last five days, fighting for her life while connected to a ventilator and various other medical devices.
“It’s been hard,” Todd Sechler said. “We’ve been on pins and needles, not knowing what’s going to happen or even what has happened. When she opens her eyes we feel a little better, but they keep reminding us how critical she is and it’s a scary situation.”
Doctors are unsure what caused the emergency, but they believe it’s related to Kassidy’s heart. Doctors have refrained from running many tests to diagnose for now, instead waiting for her organs to start functioning properly.
On Wednesday, doctors delivered a positive report. Kathy Sechler, Kassidy’s mother, relayed that report on the Prayers for Kassidy Facebook Group: “I am at the hospital right now and we finally have good news to share. Kidneys are functioning now and Kas was able to move five liters of fluid overnight. They are starting to turn (the) vent down some. (They’re) going to introduce protein in the feeding tube to try to get some food in her, but only a small amount. Removed ice packs and her temps seems to be stabilized. All vitals have been where they needed to be overnight. Today is a really big day because they are making a lot of changes and implementing some new procedures. It’s still a marathon with mountains and valleys but it seems as though Kas is starting to climb out of this valley.”
While the 15-year-old has undergone treatment in the hospital, the softball community has rallied behind her through the Facebook group. In addition to keeping everyone updated on Kassidy’s progress, the group has served as a way for people to send their prayers and well wishes to her family.
Over the course of just a few days, more than 9,000 people have joined the group and published 500 posts from across the country and the world. About 40 states and almost a dozen countries have been represented so far, but that number is still growing.
“That’ll just make her so proud when she wakes up and realizes everything that people have done, both friends and people she doesn’t even know,” Todd said.
Some of those who have never met Kassidy in person started fundraisers, made bracelets and printed T-shirts — all to show their support for her.
“It’s given us a lot of hope and the support we really needed, just a blessing,” Todd said. “Our hearts are full. It’s hard to put into words the appreciation we have. It’s unreal. Unbelievable. It’s going to be hard for (Kassidy) to fathom what everyone is doing.”
Those who do know Kassidy have shared pictures or memories to the group. There are plenty of Kassidy stories to go around, including one that Bryan Ritchie loves to tell. Ritchie, who coaches Kassidy on Extreme Performance, first got to know her when she played with his daughter on the 2019 Little League Championship winning Rowan softball team.
“One of the fondest memories I have with Kas is when, somehow, right before we went to Portland, Oregon, she ripped off half of one of her eyebrows,” Ritchie said. “Through the rest of the tournament, we called her ‘brow.’ She had lost her voice from cheering on her teammates, so she held up a sign on ESPN that said, ‘Hi, my name is Kassidy and I’ve lost my voice and half my eyebrow.’ That’s the kind of kid she is.”
Kassidy’s self-deprecating humor is appreciated by both her coaches and teammates.
“You don’t want to say you have favorites, but she was definitely one of the favorites for all of the coaches, just because of her personality and how easily she got along with everybody,” said Steve Yang, who coached Kassidy on the 2019 title team. “She’s just a gem to be around as a person, as well as to coach.”
Wilkinson, who spoke briefly before the prayer vigil on Wednesday night, visited Kassidy in the hospital earlier in the day.
“Seeing Kassidy and holding her hand was good, but it was also tough to see someone you love hooked up to machines and tubes,” Wilkinson said. “You know she’s in there fighting and she’s getting better each day.”
With the blessing of Kassidy’s parents, Extreme Performance will travel to Hickory this weekend to compete in a tournament.
“They’re going to put it on Facebook Live for us and we’re going to set it up for her so she can hear it and hopefully she’ll get a little bit out of it,” Todd said. “I hope they do well and play hard.”
The team, Wilkinson said, will be playing for Kassidy.
People can stay up to date on Kassidy’s progress through the Facebook page Prayers for Kassidy.