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Stories of Kyleigh and Ryleigh teach life lessons through adversity in athletics

Five days apart, Whitehall seniors Kyleigh Martin and Ryleigh Mott see final high school seasons end abruptly with injuries.

Editor’s note: Ryleigh Mott declined being interviewed on video, so she is not featured in the video above.

WHITEHALL – Kyleigh Martin and Ryleigh Mott have more in common than similar-sounding first names and last names beginning with the same letter of the alphabet.

They’re both great students, fierce competitors, team leaders and two of the top athletes in a Whitehall senior class featuring a handful of highly successful female multi-sporters.

Unfortunately, they now share one more characteristic: Both have suffered season-ending injuries this spring. Mott suffered a serious knee injury April 21 in a home soccer match against North Muskegon. Five days later, Martin suffered a broken leg in a softball game at Ravenna.

Whitehall senior soccer player Ryleigh Mott suffered a season-ending knee injury, but she still shows leadership and good support of her teammates as illustrated by her actions during the Vikings’ match against Oakridge May 5, 2022, in Whitehall, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

Their last-hurrah sports seasons ended abruptly. In the blink of an eye, their high school athletic careers were over. However, as with any form of adversity encountered via interscholastic sports, life lessons took shape. As true character has been revealed, Martin and Mott exhibit support of their teammates despite the fact they can no longer join them on the field.

“(Softball) is an absolute team sport. The necessity to believe in your teammates is something that she’s learning to believe,” said Martin’s father, Kyle, who is an assistant coach for the Vikings. “The thing that I like is that she’s been here and so I hear her in the dugout. I really feel that she’s pulling for the girls and that makes me proud that she’s making that step.”

Last week, with a cast around her lower right leg following reconstructive surgery from multiple fractures in her fibula, Martin used a scooter to move around and she joined her Whitehall softball teammates for the first time since her injury. The Vikings’ captain and top player watched from the home dugout while she provided a vocal boost and offered encouragement.

Meanwhile, a few hundred yards away, Mott was dressed in street clothes as the Vikings soccer team prepared for a home match that night. Her injury may be less apparent than Martin’s, but the amount of strength it took Mott to be there and support her peers was no less impressive as she learned only two days earlier that she had suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in her left knee.

Mott joined the traditional pregame captains meeting at midfield and cheered enthusiastically when friend Maggie Evans netted her 100th career goal.

“When you’re a senior and leader on the team, kids are going to look and see how you respond to adversity,” said Mott’s father, Brian. “Not feeling down or gloomy, but in turn being like a mini-coach, I guess, and being supportive for the people that have to fill the shoes of you that was playing, it’s not easy to do but kids sometimes want to do that.”

Despite their seasons being cut short, Martin and Mott have already enjoyed a good deal of success in their high school careers and both appear to have bright futures ahead.

Martin, a 3.89 student, has committed to Alma College, where she will continue her academic pursuits and become a member of the Scots’ prominent competitive cheer program. Alma will be headed to Daytona Beach, Fla., next month and look to defend its national championship. She is looking to study special education or deaf education. Her mother, Debbie, is a special education teacher.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

Mott, a 3.80 student, has signed with Muskegon Community College, where she’ll play volleyball for Rick Rykse’s highly successful Jayhawks program. She played libero for Whitehall’s conference- and district-volleyball championship team last fall. She is considering a career path in nursing, following the lead of mother Lisa, or a related field.

Neither Martin nor Mott let their injuries stop them from dressing up and thoroughly enjoying their senior prom April 30. Similarly, both are part of a friend group that enjoys spending summer days at the beach or poolside and they plan to continue with that tradition.

“We’re friends, so I told her, ‘We going to get through this together and hang out at the pool together and just sit and relax,’” said a smiling Mott, whose surgery is yet to come.

For Martin, it’s been a rough senior year on the athletics side of things. She had to get stitches during sideline cheer in the fall and injured the MCL in her knee during competitive cheer in the winter.

Martin and Mott were forced to deal with disappointment as sophomores as well when their spring sports seasons were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

As their days count down as Whitehall students, both are making the best of their situations and trying to soak in every special moment.

“I don’t know, I talk to the girls a lot on my team and I really just try to uplift them now because there’s nothing more I can do,” Martin said.

“On the field, I feel like I’m obviously leading as a captain. I’m always the example, like if we do a drill or something. That’s one of the good things about this season, the girls look up to me, even if I’m hurt. I wanted to set up a good front and make sure that they know I’m OK and it’s still their season and they can still accomplish a district championship without me and stuff.”

Whitehall softball coach Denis Koegel and Vikings soccer coach Adam Prince have been impressed with the way Martin and Mott have continued to serve important roles on their respective teams despite the disappointing ways their seasons ended.

Mott has a healthy perspective.

“I mean, I’m just glad I had the years I had and although it ended this way, I am happy for all the memories that’s I’ve had and I played my hardest every year. It sucks, but I left a little bit of a mark on people,” she reflected.

“I’m just a really competitive person, so I love that, but the team aspect, the hard-working aspect, it’s really important to me. It sucks that it ended this way, but I’m just happy for the years that I’ve had.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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