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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Pitching in

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 •  Mililani, Pearl City face off in key games
 •  Athletes of the Week

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

To many high school softball pitchers, a 3-0 count with the bases loaded and no outs may seem like a pressure situation.

Punahou senior Sarah Weisskopf, center, has had to care for brothers Sean, 11, left, Bill, 14, and sister Malia, 8, with her father working 12-hour shifts plus special duty as a Honolulu police officer. Weisskopf has the Buffanblu off to a 5-0 start this season.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

But for Punahou senior Sarah Weisskopf, that scenario is nothing compared to the type she had to encounter in her pre-teen years: one younger brother saying he's hungry, another younger brother crying because his toy fell apart and a baby sister who needs to "go potty."

All at once, with no one around to help.

"A lot of times my friends would be out playing, but I would have to stay home," said Weisskopf, who has had to watch over brothers Bill, 14, and Sean, 11, as well as sister Malia, 8. "My dad told me that I'm not a normal teenager, that he needed my help and I would kind of have to put that stuff on the side. But it's OK, because I like spending time with my brothers and my sister, and my dad works so hard for us ... it's the least I can do for him."

If Weisskopf — the reigning Interscholastic League of Honolulu Player of the Year — is a picture of calmness and maturity in whatever softball situation, perhaps it is because she's had lots of practice in matters much more important.

With her parents divorced when she was 12 and her father, Bill, having sole custody of all four children, Weisskopf has had to be a surrogate mother the past five years.

And with Bill working 12-hour shifts plus special duty as a Honolulu police officer, she's often more like a single mom.

"She's basically had to take the place of their mother since she was 12 years old," Bill said. "I was working nights, so she had to learn to do everything — cooking, cleaning, washing and folding clothes ... I asked her to do quite a bit, and it's a lot to ask of someone so young.

Sarah Weisskopf never gets shaken on the field, including last season during a 20-inning performance against Kamehameha.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"But she never complained. She was always the type of kid who wanted to help. I think some other kids might have folded in that situation, but she knew she's got to be there for them and for me."

That strength of character is exhibited on the softball field, where Weisskopf has been the Buffanblu's leader as a pitcher and hitter since her freshman year. Her calm, efficient and businesslike approach to the game was never more impressive than in last season's 21-inning loss to ILH champion Kamehameha.

Weisskopf pitched all 20 inning for Punahou before allowing an inside-the-park home run to lead off the bottom of the 21st, some 5 hours after she threw her first pitch.

Kamehameha had used three pitchers who each threw seven innings in what is believed to be the longest game in Hawai'i high school history.

"Sarah was unbelievable; she has a bionic arm," Warriors coach Ty Sing Chow said after the game. "She proved how much she wanted it. There's no question about her heart."

Weisskopf's teammates probably were the least surprised at her effort.

"We knew she had it in her, that there was nothing that was going to stop her," said catcher Kaha Weir, who has caught Weisskopf for three years. "It was almost like she got stronger every inning, that it made her push harder."

As a sophomore, Weisskopf went 11-2 with 80 strikeouts in league play as Punahou gained a state tournament berth. Last season, she went 8-3 with a 0.96 earned run average in the ILH, striking out 55 in 80 innings. She also batted .450 with five doubles and helped the Buffanblu reach the state semifinals.

This year, Punahou is off to a 5-0 start and has a key showdown Saturday with three-time defending league champ Kamehameha. The game takes on even greater importance this season since a change in state tournament representation has left the ILH with only one berth.

"Right now we're not even looking at states yet because the ILH is so tough," Weisskopf said. "There are so many great teams in our league that don't even get seen, so we have to focus on that."

It is focus — rather than God-given physical ability — that has made Weisskopf into the player she is. While impressive, her strikeout totals do not always match up to some other pitchers, and until this year she was never the hardest-throwing pitcher in the ILH.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser
"When I was younger, I didn't have the power that other pitchers had, but I learned I could use movement and change speeds," Weisskopf said. "For me it's more fun to pitch that way, because the batters never know what I'm throwing them. I just throw my best pitch and let my defense make the plays."

Even on the rare occasions her defense breaks down, Weisskopf remains unshaken.

Buffanblu coach Kristl Chinen said Weisskopf also showed unselfishness recently after being removed despite throwing five perfect innings.

"We were ahead and I wanted to get some other players in the game," Chinen said. "When she came out, there was no negative body language, no problem with sharing time. Sometimes it's easy for a pitcher to get caught up in strikeouts and no-hitters, but Sarah just trusts her defense and makes the people around her better. That's why all the other kids want to play behind her."

Then there is her leadership by example when the going gets tough, which Bill Weisskopf says comes from her home situation.

"I see the parallels of her being able to focus, to weather the storm," Bill said. "At home, you've got to be calm when everything around you is going crazy in the house. So I could see from an early age how it strengthened her character. She's not tremendously gifted athletically, so I told her she's just got to be stronger mentally. She's had to persevere."

The perseverance meant waking up early to catch the bus to Punahou from Kapolei, doing most of her homework during the school day since there is no computer at home, and then taking the long bus ride back after dark.

"She has very little compared to other kids, but I told her these things will be an advantage to her someday," Bill said.

Chinen said it already has.

"She's resilient as a player and doesn't feel pressure like normal kids," Chinen said. "She has an awesome responsibility at home — I have it now (as a mother), but I'm way older than she is. Her life is way harder than other kids', especially at our school where a lot of them come from affluent backgrounds and sometimes don't appreciate things."

Weir, for one, appreciates Weisskopf.

"She's had to grow up a lot faster than us," Weir said. "I have a lot of respect for her."

Regardless of this season's outcome, Weisskopf's hard work has paid off in a full scholarship to play for the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

"It was totally worth it," Weisskopf said. "I really like the school, and I'm happy for my dad and my grandma because they've been scraping to pay for Punahou. Now there's just the other three kids ..."

Reach Wes Nakama at wnakama@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2456.

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