A little less than a decade ago, Kelley Lynch attended a Jennie Finch camp and remembers it like yesterday.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime to be able to meet her and interact with her,” said Lynch, who led East Coweta High School (Sharpsburg, Ga.) to a 32-2 record and its second consecutive Class 7A state championship this past season.
On Thursday, Lynch got to meet Finch once again but in a more illustrious way as the former collegiate All-American and two-time Olympic medalist was on hand in Georgia to present Lynch with the 2018-19 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year award. The ceremony actually was pulled off in an incognito manner during the East Coweta High Baseball Camp in which the coach announced to the hundreds of campers in attendance that a special camper of the day award would be presented to Lynch.
“I was so surprised,” said Lynch, who has signed a national letter of intent to play softball on scholarship at the University of Washington. “It is such a huge honor to even be thought of for the award let alone win it. And then to have one of my idols present me with the award is just incredible. I feel very blessed to have accomplished something like this.”
Lynch ends a five-year streak in which players from California schools took home the hardware. The East Coweta graduate becomes the first winner from the state of Georgia since Geri Ann Glasco (Oconee County High School, Watkinsville) in 2011-12.
The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field, distinguishes Lynch as the nation’s best high school softball player. A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Lynch from nearly 360,000 high school softball players nationwide. Lynch is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award, to be presented at a special ceremony prior to The ESPY Awards in July.
“I take great pride in being able to be a part of this ceremony that recognizes the best of the best,” said Finch, who presented the award for the fourth time. “I had so much fun celebrating with Kelley Lynch after she was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year award and welcoming her into our prestigious family of winners. The sport has grown so much over the years and it is amazing to see the type of coverage the sport gets now. Kelley is a prime example of how the sport keeps producing not only amazing athletes but incredible people.”
Lynch, a 5-foot-9 pitcher who is the state’s returning Gatorade Softball Player of the Year, excelled in the circle, compiling a 17-0 record with a 0.27 ERA as a pitcher. At the plate, she finished the 2019 campaign with a .436 batting average, three home runs, and 25 RBI.
The Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year, Lynch was also named Player of the Year by the Georgia Dugout Club and is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019 by FloSoftball.
Off the field, Lynch has been just as exemplary, maintaining an A average in school while serving as a participating member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She has also volunteered locally on behalf of the Special Olympics, the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and youth softball teams.
Lynch has maintained an A average in the classroom.
More so than anything, Lynch has persevered after her dad passed away on March 7, 2012, due to cancer. She dedicated the award to her father, who was instrumental in helping her and her older sister, Katey, a catcher at Kennesaw State, build the early foundation in softball.
“He meant so much to my sister and me and played a huge role in our development as both softball players and people in general,” said Lynch, who has a tattoo on her right forearm inscribed with Roman numerals of the date of her father’s death. “I am sure he is smiling right now as we speak.”
Through Gatorade’s cause marketing platform “Play it Forward,” Lynch has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of her choosing. She is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of twelve $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice, which will be announced throughout the year.
“Kelley Lynch was selected for her outstanding accomplishments on and off the field,” said Gatorade Senior Vice President and General Manager Brett O’Brien. “Like past Gatorade National Player of the Year recipients, we look forward to seeing Kelley Lynch have continued success in sports and in life.”
Each year a selection committee evaluates the nation’s top talent in the District of Columbia and all 50 states, choosing national winners in 12 different sports: football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, boys, and girls soccer, and boys and girls track & field. From the 12 national winners, one male and one female athlete are each named Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year.
Since the program’s inception in 1985, Gatorade Player of the Year award recipients have won hundreds of professional and college championships, and many have also turned into pillars in their communities, becoming coaches, business owners, and educators. Former notable Gatorade National Players of the Year include Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning, 2015 NBA first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, three-time WNBA champion Maya Moore, seven-time track & field gold medalist Allyson Felix, three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh and three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.