High school awards: Olympic softball player featured Hitchcock speaker

Leah O’Brien-Amico has traveled around the world as an Olympic softball player and has met a lot of interesting people through her contacts with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but the person who made the biggest impact in her life was a college teammate at the University of Arizona.

Julie Reitan was a starting outfielder for the two-time defending national champion when she passed away unexpectedly as a result of hypoglycemia. Fifteen years later, her tragic death still has an impact on O-Brien-Amico.

“What that did in my life is to remind me that tomorrow is never guaranteed and that what we do today does matter,” she said. “What I want to encourage the athletes to do is focus on today and making it count.”

O’Brien-Amico will be in Montgomery tonight as the featured speaker at the 53rd Jimmy Hitchcock Memorial Award banquet at Frazer United Methodist Church.

A mother of three who never stops, the former three-time Olympian will speak at an FCA prayer breakfast for area softball players on Friday morning before flying back to California.

At a banquet famous for its diversity of speakers from Major League pitcher Dave Dravecky to college football coach Lou Holtz to former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wueffel, O’Brien-Amico will be the first female speaker in the history of the banquet.

“It’s great,” she said. “They’ve had really great speakers like Lou Holtz and Les Steckel in the past. It doesn’t (add any pressure being the first female) because you just go out and be who you are.

The left-handed outfielder made a name for herself in college softball at a time when the sport was just beginning to take off. A three-time All-American, she led Arizona to three consecutive national championships in the mid-1990s. She finished her stellar career with an incredible .563 batting average in the Women’s College World Series, going 31 for 55 while striking out just once.

She visited Montgomery in 2004 as part of the U.S. Olympic team that made a stop at Lagoon Park and beat a college all-star team in front of an overflow crowd.

She helped Team USA win the gold medal in 1996, 2000 and 2004 and admits it won’t be the same watching the Olympics this year after the Olympic committee voted to remove softball from the participating sports.

“I don’t know how the other (Olympic) girls feel, probably similar to the way I feel, but I’m just not excited about the Olympics this year,” she said. “I just won’t see the Olympics in the same way any more, even though I’ll be rooting on our Olympians to do well.”

She was inducted into the Athletes in Action’s Hall of Faith in 2008 along with fellow Montgomery native Bart Starr and will be coaching fellow Olympian and former Alabama All-American Kelly Kretschman (along with former Alabama All-American Charlotte Morgan) on the Florida Pride’s professional softball team this summer.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “I’m going to be gone (from my house) for 12 weeks. I haven’t been there yet, so I don’t know what to expect, but I feel like, going into this level, there’s not going to be much teaching.

“If you find some areas where they’re struggling, you just try to help them through it. It’s going to be more encouragement than anything.”

Written by
Tim Gayle

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