Kindred: ‘Stubborn’ Amber May sticks with pitching, earns spot in Eastern Illinois Hall of Fame | Sports

Kindred: ‘Stubborn’ Amber May sticks with pitching, earns spot in Eastern Illinois Hall of Fame | Sports

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Michele Smith was coming to town. If you were even remotely familiar with softball, you knew that was significant. If you were an 8-year-old with a desire to play the game, being tutored by an Olympic gold medal-winning pitcher was the opportunity of your young life.

“I begged my dad to go, even though I knew nothing about pitching,” Amber May said.

Mike May agreed, and they made the short drive from their home in Normal to a weekend clinic at Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center. His daughter fired away in one of six rows of aspiring pitchers, with Smith making the rounds to offer tips and techniques.

Young Amber sprayed the ball to all fields, a good thing if you’re a hitter, but …

“I couldn’t get the ball over the plate,” she said. “I remember the Wesleyan coach saying to my dad, ‘You know, I think she needs to find another position.’ My dad said, ‘Well, she’s too stubborn. She won’t do it.’ I just kind of kept working on it.”

May didn’t stop until she had become the record-setting ace of Normal Community High School’s 2007 Class AA state champions, the mainstay of Heartland Community College’s 2008 third-place national team and the No. 1 hurler for three years at Eastern Illinois University.

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Now, she is a Hall of Famer. May learned recently she will be inducted into the Eastern Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame on Oct. 15.

“I told Tom Michael, our athletic director, that it’s humbling to be included with the EIU greats in the Hall of Fame already,” May said. “I didn’t really know what to say. I got kind of emotional. It’s quite an honor.”

May had a 1.98 earned run average at EIU from 2009-2011 and ranks fourth in school history in wins (57), fourth in innings pitched (685), third in complete games (73), fourth in shutouts (17) and fourth in strikeouts (582).

She did it all after undergoing major knee surgery following NCHS’ run to the 2007 state championship, which included a tournament-record 51 strikeouts by May in three games.

The next fall, her first appearance for Heartland was one inning against Eastern Illinois. It got the attention of EIU coach Kim Schuette.

“She came to the dugout and offered me (a scholarship) and I accepted that day,” May said. “It was kind of just a perfect fit and it really worked out. A lot of schools kind of backed off after I had that knee surgery. It meant a lot that she had faith in me that I could come out on top.”

May’s success at Eastern extended beyond softball. She earned her bachelor’s degree with a 3.4 grade point average and went on to get her master’s degree. She found a home in Charleston and at EIU, where she is associate director of alumni services.

Her best season at Eastern came as a senior in 2011, when she was the Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year. May was 23-6 as the Panthers went 40-12 overall and won the Ohio Valley with a 26-4 mark.

“We kind of struggled my junior year,” she said. “To be able to come back on top my senior year and win big games and be able to host the first-ever OVC tournament at Eastern, it was great. Our team clicked that year. It was a fun group of girls and a great coaching staff.”

May is still windmilling with that once-wild right arm. She pitches batting practice frequently at Charleston High School, where she is on the coaching staff, and pitches competitively in a women’s fastpitch league in Effingham.

On Aug. 1, she will toe the rubber at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Eastern Illinois has an alumni event with the Cardinals each year and May has been asked to throw out the first pitch for a 1:15 p.m. game against the Minnesota Twins.

“Underhand or overhand?” she was asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” May said. “I’ll have to practice, I guess.”

No problem there. May has a history of working until she gets it right.

She’s stubborn that way.

Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred

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