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Spunky, speedy Ravenna softball player stays strong throughout dad’s cancer battle

Center fielder Liberty Willick has relished the ups, persevered through the downs, in her senior year.

RAVENNA – For being only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, Liberty Willick is as big a battler as you might find on a softball field. Or anywhere.

Adversity keeps being thrown her way, yet the spunky and speedy center fielder for a talented and tough Ravenna softball team continues to persevere.

Just before her senior year began, Willick learned her father was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. After months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Chuck Willick said his prognosis is “pretty good,” but he’s scheduled for surgery May 16 – the day after his daughter’s commencement ceremony at Ravenna.

Liberty Willick has many things going for her, but it’s still a lot to handle for somebody who just turned 18, as she did two days ago. She takes the good with the bad and stays strong through it all.

“The kid truly is amazing. She’s juggling sports, academics and definitely with what happened to me. I mean, it’s been hard,” said Chuck Willick, 49, who is a 1991 Ravenna alumnus. “She was home with me a few times when I had some bad nights and she didn’t let it show but then I heard through the grapevine that it was tough on her and she cried when she got to her mom’s (Tammy Mays), you know.

“I mean, she’s there for you all the time when you need stuff. She’s a big help to me around the house.”

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark and courtesy of the Willick family

The softball field has been a sanctuary for Liberty Willick, although it’s brought some physical pain recently. For the last couple weeks, she’s been playing through a stress fracture in a metatarsal bone.

Then, in Saturday’s 7-4 win over rival Oakridge in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 tournament final, Willick suffered a bruised and swollen middle finger on her throwing hand when the ball clipped her finger before it landed in her glove as she fought the sun trying to make the catch. Later, Willick caught the final out of the game and ran toward the infield wearing a big smile.

“She was crying in the dugout (after injuring her finger) and I was like, ‘Lib, are you good, you good? You need ice?’” said Maddie Kilbourne, who joins Willick as the only two seniors on Ravenna’s 19-2 team. “People coming in and out and she pushed through, toughed it out, ran out in the outfield and made another catch.”

Ravenna seniors Maddie Kilbourne, left, and Liberty Willick pose for a portrait after helping the Bulldogs beat Oakridge, 7-4, in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 softball title game Saturday, May 7, 2022, at Reeths-Puffer High School. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Willick is described as a perfectionist, much like her father. She is very competitive and she’s hard on herself, sometimes wearing a scowl on the field when things don’t go her way. But, as coaches say, she tends to bounce back quickly.

“(Willick’s dad is) a perfectionist, but he’s very compassionate. He’s hard on me when it comes to sports, but he’s also one of my biggest supporters,” she said. “He just helps me. If he sees that I’m struggling, he likes to go out and help me a little bit. I think he’s great.”

On the softball field, Willick looks to make an impact wherever and however possible. Her speed and anticipation allow her to track down drives and fly balls in the gaps. “She goes and gets everything,” Ravenna coach Dave Sherman said. As the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, she’s like a second leadoff for the ’Dogs and her quickness can wreak havoc on the basepaths.

This season, Willick is batting .358 with three doubles, one home run and 11 stolen bases. Last season, she earned all-conference, all-district and all-region accolades.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Willick is a 3.9 student, who was crowned homecoming queen in the fall. She played libero on the volleyball squad, then in the winter was a key member of Ravenna’s bowling team that won a regional title and advanced to the state finals.

Willick was Ravenna’s female representative for athletics at the 41st West Michigan Student Showcase at the Frauenthal Center and she’s also her school’s female nominee for the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award.

Somehow, she manages to balance it all, even amid the adversity.

“It’s been really tough, but I have a really good support system like with my mom and my friend group that I hang out with,” Willick said. “It’s been really tough because, like, it’s my senior year, I’m trying to excel in softball but I’m also trying to make sure that my dad’s (doing well).

“I didn’t really tell anybody about my dad because I didn’t want anyone to think that I can’t do something just because of it. At the beginning, I only told a few people that I thought needed to know.”

Part of Willick’s mental toughness could be attributed to the fact that she’s the youngest of three children and the only female among the siblings. Chuck Willick said she’s a bit of a tomboy, who developed an affinity for softball tagging along with her brothers to the ballpark when they were young. Her father coached her growing up.

Ravenna’s Liberty Willick, second from left in front row, and father Chuck Willick, on the left in the back row, ham it up for a photo with their Throop Funeral Home youth softball team. (Courtesy of the Willick family)

To the degree Liberty Willick loves softball, and maybe even more so, her dad is loyal to Dodge vehicles. It’s all Chuck Willick has driven. Some might say that his 2004 black Dodge Ram Rumble Bee, in near-mint condition, is his prized possession. His three children are named after Dodge/Jeep models: Dakota, Colt and Liberty. Even family dogs Cruiser and Renegade and bunny Belvedere are named in that fashion.

Liberty Willick is certainly her father’s daughter – meticulous and sometimes a bit stubborn, as she points out. She drives a Jeep Renegade and works part-time at an auto body shop.

Willick is uncertain what she might pursue for a career. She had an opportunity to attend Aquinas College for bowling, but she’s planning to head to Muskegon Community College on the Muskegon Area Promise scholarship. She said MCC’s softball program has contacted her.

Willick is eager for the future, but she has unfinished business at Ravenna. Her ultimate goal is to win a state title with her softball team.

She is inspired by the way her father, despite his cancer battle, has been there every step of the way and makes it a point to be at all of her softball games.

She is moved by the way people in her small community have each other’s backs. The Willicks saw that first-hand when an overflow crowd attended a benefit for Chuck Willick last weekend at the Ravenna Conservation Club.

“I just want to please my family,” Liberty Willick said. “I’ve had a great senior year so far. I’ve had a lot of achievements, so I definitely think I am making them proud and I want to make sure that I keep that up.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Lorraine Bonter

    May 9, 2022 at 2:44 am

    Very thorough and compassionate article about my smart, beautiful, and athletic granddaughter and my son. I am so proud of them and wish I could do more to help them through Libby’s senior year and Chuck’s battle with cancer. I hope and pray for them everyday and let them know they are loved so much. I am so thankful for their siblings, friends, and rest of the family for all their love and support. God bless us all

    • Scott DeCamp

      May 9, 2022 at 6:58 am

      Thanks for reading the story and reaching out. They’re great people, whom I am praying for.

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