Pan Am Gold Medalist Natalie Wideman attends our Annual Year End Banquet

Updated Sunday August 16, 2015 by Niagara Girls Minor Softball Association.


NIAGARA FALLS - While following the Pan Am Games softball tournament, Frank Marchese came across an article on Team Canada member Natalie Wideman.

The Niagara Girls Minor Softball Association president read that the 23-year-old Mississauga native was inspired to play international softball for Canada after watching the Olympics on TV.

“The next day, I’m at the park and I am watching the kids and I started to wonder how many of our kids were watching the Pan Am Games this year saying, ‘I can do that. I want to do that,’” he said.

So Marchese decided to try to get a member of Canada’s Pan Am Games championship team to be a surprise guest at the association’s year-end banquet Thursday night at the AmeriCana resort.

“When they got back to me and said Natalie was able to come, it was great, because she was the one that inspired me to get someone in the first place,” he said.

Marchese, a former NCAA scholarship player in Pennsylvania, arrived at the banquet with her gold medal tucked in her purse and still on a high after Canada defeated the top-ranked American team 4-2 in the championship game in Ajax.

“We usually beat them early in the tournament when it doesn’t matter, and it was the first time we beat them in the Pan Am final in 32 years,” said Wideman, who has represented Canada at the 2012 and 2014 world championships.

“It still sends shivers up my spine thinking about it.”

Before the game, the team spoke to one of the members of the Pan Am championship squad from 1973.

“There were a lot of things leading up to the event that we sort of knew the ball was in our court,” she said. “We had this great feeling and great vibe.”

The win was important, because softball could be reintroduced in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and countries need to show the dominant Americans can be beaten.

It’s much like women’s hockey at the Winter Olympics, where there’s a bit of trepidation about the sport being taken out of the Olympics because Canada and the United States are so dominant.

The guest visit by the naturopath student was her second public appearance since winning the Pan Am gold medal. She attended a practice in Waterloo Wednesday and helped out with some drills.

“That was pretty awesome, but I haven’t been to a banquet yet,” Wideman said. “This is exciting to get to speak to such a big group.”

No doubt, the Niagara Falls girls were as impressed by the Pan Am medal as were their counterparts from Waterloo.

“The girls were just in awe of it and to feel the weight of it,” Wideman said. “Every single person I’ve handed the medal to or put it around their neck has felt that weight and commented on what an awesome feeling it is to have that around your neck and feel what it is like to be a gold medallist.”

The gold medal has been sitting on a desk at home, but there are plans to buy a shadow box for it.

“But it will definitely be in my room,” she said.

“I need to see it at all times.”

It is a memory and a motivator.

“Now that we’ve won a gold medal, other teams are going to try to prove they are better and play their best game against us,” she said. “I have to remind myself that I’m a gold medallist, but I also have to kick myself in the butt to keep going.”

Wideman loves being a softball role model for young girls.

“I feel I owe it to the sport, after all the sport has given me and all the opportunities I’ve had to travel the world and meet different people,” she said. “I’m hoping to grow the sport so future generations have the same opportunities I’ve had.”

Her favourite part of it is having the chance to positively influence even one girl to achieve her softball dreams

She has fond memories of playing travel ball in Niagara when she was a young girl.

“I remember coming to Niagara and it was always a stunning tournament because it was close to the end of the summer and it was always beautiful outside.”

Thursday’s banquet capped an excellent 46th season of house and select team play in the NGMSA. Registration increased 12 per cent this year to more than 300 kids and the hard-working, six-person executive is hoping that resurgence continues with interest created from Thursday’s year-end banquet.

“We had over 500 people here tonight and people were banging down our doors to get tickets,” Marchese said.


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