Art Major Sketches Own Path on the Diamond
Oct. 28, 2009
By Joshua R. Wilkins
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Whether drawing stop-motion animations of her hands in art class or stopping the motion of opposing runners from the infield, Memphis junior infielder and art major Maddie McKinley tends to stand out.
She stands out on and off the field for a Memphis softball team full of unique individuals thanks to those talents.
"Ever since Maddie has gotten here, you can tell that she sees things a little differently than everybody else," Memphis head coach Windy Thees said. "She's got a lot of passion in everything she does."
That passion is evident from garnering All-C-USA Freshman team honors and ranking fourth in career assists and fifth in double plays after only two seasons at Memphis to designing shirts for her teammates to wear to football games.
"It's like she has found her niche," Thees said. "Once she went ahead and committed to art and got serious about it, it's really changed her personality. It's neat to see her discovering so much about herself. The better she does with the art, it's like she's simultaneously becoming a better ballplayer as she matures."
That niche wasn't always evident for McKinley, who excelled on the field early on, but couldn't figure out what path she wanted to take in school. Finally her childhood hobby and growing passion overtook her thoughts. It wasn't long before McKinley was doing more than just doodling in her notebook during a class. She was sketching teammates on road trips and working on high-level class projects even talented artists struggle with.
"When I came to Memphis, majoring in art had never really crossed my mind," McKinley said. "Then I realized I had a little talent and thought, `Why not?' It's something I really love. It started when I was a little kid. I always enjoyed drawing at an early age, and I really liked taking art classes after school."
"For someone like me, who can only draw a stick figure, it's amazing to see the talent she has," Thees added.
McKinley admits that while she loves where she comes from in Chickamauga, Ga., at times in a small town even a stick figure can be exciting. Enter her transition to Memphis and its art communities.
"I think you develop your imagination a lot when you don't have a lot to do," McKinley said. "I went to a high school with only around 400 kids, so things are a lot bigger here in Memphis. The cool thing is now I get so many ideas for art just riding around town in Memphis."
McKinley also gets ideas riding to other towns for Tiger softball games. She's been known to sketch teammates for class projects on the team bus, and even draw inspiration from her teammates.
"My teammates are very supportive," McKinley said. "Last year I'd have art homework to do on the bus so I'd sometimes have to ask a teammate to draw them or something like that. They were all really supportive, and they were there for me when I needed them to be."
Other than on those occasions, McKinley says she tries to keep the two separate.
"One is my work on the field, and the other is kind of my release off of it," McKinley, who wouldn't mind working as a creative director for Disney or Cartoon Network one day, said.
Her imagination also flees from the softball field to other ideas more outside the box. Whether McKinley is eating at favorite restaurants such as Texas de Brazil or Houston's or hanging out near Beale Street, Midtown, or by campus, her imagination is evident.
"I think some of the stuff I draw is kind of creepy," McKinley said. "It's at least a little out of the ordinary. If I see a weird looking person or object, it makes me want to draw it."
The rebellious side of McKinley's personality comes through just in mixing the worlds of sports and art, a rarity.
"It doesn't seem weird to me," McKinley said. "If it's weird to other people that's OK. I just did not want to do sports and leisure management. That's what everyone does. I wanted to do something that would take me farther."
While it may take McKinley a while to work up to her professional apex, she admits The Bluff City has plenty of weird stuff and not-so-weird-stuff to help her practice.
"People take art more seriously here," McKinley said. "I really like the art community here. There's always something going on. There are also a lot more professional opportunities in Memphis than where I'm from as well."
There is no doubt McKinley has always taken her other talent seriously. In starting all but three games since midway through her freshman season, the former four-time North Georgia Dream Team selection has been a key to improving the color and clarity of the Memphis diamond.
"Maddie is a tremendous player, but sometimes we used to worry that she could even be too hard on herself," Thees said. "Artists are very serious people, but I think Maddie is finally learning to laugh at herself. Since she found art, she seems much more comfortable in everything she does. I think that will help her progress and understand how to use those leadership qualities she has, and use them to better our team this year."
McKinley hopes she can do so, if for no other reason than to repay her teammates for the support. As a junior next spring, she morphs from underclassman with potential to team leader.
"I want to be a leader and through my own growth show the girls how to be more mentally tough," McKinley said. "You have to be a brick wall as much as possible. I've played softball for years, and you have to let your experience keep you confident know matter what obstacles you face in game situations."
McKinley, one of the best defensive players for the Tigers in 2008 and 2009, is working hard to improve her hitting this off-season, taking hitting lessons every day despite having almost three hours of art project homework daily to juggle.
"Ever since she's been here, she's always had all the qualities she needs to be a leader," Thees said. "Because, at times, maybe she was a little lost with herself, it didn't always equate to being a leader on our team. Now, she's learning that a lot of people will listen to her."
While off the field, McKinley seems intrigued with random art, such as Jonathan Brilliant's art where he weaves coffee stirrers into different sculptures, on the field McKinley wants to relay the message of unity her athlete-filled family instilled in her.
"We need to learn how to be that team that is inseparable," McKinley said. "We need to be one unit. From what I know about the younger girls so far, they have mostly good heads on their shoulders."
McKinley is at work in art class now on a perfection project, a project that involves lots of construction and bears no room for error. She also knows the fewer errors Memphis makes on the field with her leadership in 2010 will lead to another near flawless art project - the 2010 Memphis Softball Team.
"She adds something to our team," Thees said. "For any team to be successful, you have to have that type of diverse personality. We love Maddie, and appreciate what she brings to us."
McKinley will help lead the Memphis softball team into its 2010 season, which begins in February. The Tigers will open at the Centenary Spring Tournament in Shreveport, La., on February 12 against Wichita State.
The U of M is currently completing its fall workouts and ended its exhibition play with a 4-0 record. The Tigers earned four-straight shutouts with two win against Alcorn State and victories against Northwest Mississippi Community College and Union University (Tenn.).
McKinley led the team offensively in those games, finishing 8-for-12 (.667) with three home runs.
The Tigers will hold a Blue/Gray Game on Saturday, October 31, at 10 a.m. at the Tiger Softball Complex. Admission to the game is free. A free softball clinic for children ages 12 and under (boys and girls) will be held following the game by the Memphis softball team. Games and trick or treat stations will also be included in the free camp that is scheduled to start around noon and run until 1:30 p.m.