Walz’s ‘accidental’ softball success lands her in Port Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame

Softball gave Mary-Anne Walz an education. It also took her around the world, to play on diamonds in Taipei, Australia, New Zealand as well as dusty infields across North America. The sport put her into Softball BC’s Hall of Fame, and on Friday she’ll be recognized in her hometown when she’s inducted into the Port Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame.

Not bad for an accidental player.

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Walz, 57, said softball found her, rather than the other way around, when she was 7 or 8 years-old. 

“It was the thing to for girls to do at the time,” she said of her new sport that quickly found a place alongside her other passions, soccer, volleyball, basketball as well as track and field.

Walz said growing up in Port Coquitlam, the softball diamond was where community rivalries could be played out. It was a moment of civic pride when her hardscrabble PoCo Blues could beat the posh, big-city team from Coquitlam.

“You always felt like the underdog,” Walz said. “We sure had a lot of heart.”

Walz, a shortstop with a quick arm and assured feet, quickly progressed to rep teams and eventually landed a spot on Canada’s junior national team.

Still, Walz thought basketball would be her ticket to sporting success. But after she returned from a six-month trek around Europe following her graduation from PoCo secondary, she was recruited by the coach of the women’s softball team at Oklahoma State University to play summer ball in Stillwater, Ok.

“It just came out of the blue,” Walz said of the opportunity. “I guess softball chose me.”

The competition in Oklahoma was intense. Many of the summer players came from the university’s varsity program, which was ranked third in the country at the time.

But Walz said she was too naive to be intimidated.

“I just waltzed in there and thought, ‘I’m as good as these people,’” she said.

Walz ended up staying for more than four years, playing for the school team on a scholarship, then returning home from Oklahoma during summer break to play for the renowned Alpha Sports team out of New Westminster, with whom she won five Canadian senior women national championships from 1982 to ’87.

When Walz’s collegiate career ended in 1986, she graduated to Canada’s national team and helped them win a bronze medal at the 1987 Pan-Am Games in Indianapolis, Ind.

Walz said while there was talk of softball being included in the 1988 Summer Olympics, glory in the sport was modest.

“We played because we love the game,” she said.

By the time softball did become a demonstration sport at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain, Walz was 31 and her best playing days were behind her. She’d moved on, she said.

Walz, who also did some coaching after her playing career ended, said her time in the sport was a catalyst for a lot of the successes she’s had in other aspects of her life.

“It opened up a lot of doors,” she said. “It teaches you a lot about yourself and how to play nice in the sandbox.”

Walz said her latest honour has given her a chance to reflect on her softball career and appreciate what it brought her. And, she hopes, other young girls currently playing the sport might take some inspiration to seize its opportunities.

• The 2019 Port Coquitlam Sports Awards and Hall of Fame evening will be held at the theatre at Terry Fox secondary. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the ceremonies kicking off an hour later. For more information, go to www.pocosport.com

Four more inductees for hall 

• Wrestler Steve Marshall, who competed for Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, won a bronze medal at the 1987 Pan-Am Games, and finished fourth at the 1989 world championshps.

• Mike Ross, who’s being inducted in the coach category for his accomplishments founding the football program at Terry Fox secondary school back in 1974 when it was still known at PoCo High. He won a provincial championship in 1989 and by the time he retired in 1999, he’d developed several players that went on to collegiate as well as professional careers in the CFL.

• The late Ted Fridge, who will be inducted in the builder category, was Port Coquitlam’s lacrosse king. He was the president of PoCo Saints minor lacrosse from 1973 to ’85, as well as the president of Tri-City Field Lacrosse for 20 years after he founded them in 1979. He was also a commissioner of BC Lacrosse and the Western Canadian Lacrosse Association, as well as a two-time BC Lacrosse executive of the year.

Fridge, who passed away in 2005, was also inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2009.

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