Grosse Pointe South Shortstop Fearless, Tireless on Field, Brilliant in Classroom
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
May 13, 2022
That Shannon Dame won't go on to play scholarship softball at the college level won't have a bearing on the impact she's had on the program at Grosse Pointe South the last four seasons.
And besides, playing softball collegiately was Plan B. Plan A has always been deciding what university would offer Dame the best opportunity academically. While Dame is a darn good softball player, few can match her accolades as a student.
Dame never has earned less than an A in high school, sports a 4.44 GPA, scored a 35 (out of 36) on the ACT and a 1560 (out of 1600) on the SAT. Dame didn't miss a question in mathematics and science, which makes perfect sense. She has been accepted at the University of Michigan and will enter the school of engineering with plans to major in biomedical engineering. She earned a partial academic scholarship to U-M and also was awarded a National Merit Scholarship.
“I took a bunch of AP (advanced placement) science courses (at South),” she said. “I just love math and science. I always have.”
Athletically, Dame played three sports (softball, basketball, volleyball) before concentrating on softball and her academics beginning with her junior year.
From the first day as a member of coach Bill Fleming's varsity team, Dame has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to be the best player and teammate she could possibly be. Whether that meant staying after practice to work on her fielding or mentoring younger players, like sophomore second baseman Lilly Stidham, Dame has given her all.
“I was aware of her before (her freshman season),” Fleming said. “She was the quietest kid I'd ever known. It was 'yes coach' or 'no coach,' and that was it. Even then she'd come to practice early, and she'd stay late. She's very focused. She's a person who if you tell her something once you wouldn't have to say it again.
“What sets her apart is that she works so hard. She's constantly asking me to stay after practice to hit her ground balls. She's made herself a better player. I've coached football, wrestling and softball since the mid-90s, and through all of those years and teams I've coached she's worked harder than any player I've had.”
Dame started at second base as a freshman before Fleming moved her to shortstop and the leadoff spot last season. COVID-19 led to the cancelation of the 2020 season, but Dame was able to play travel ball during that summer.
She batted .481 last season and was hit by pitches 20 times, placing her second on the MHSAA record book single-season list. She's currently batting .512 with an on-base percentage of .596, with 18 runs scored despite missing six of South's 22 games. On April 21 in a game against Port Huron, Dame suffered a knee injury that caused some consternation.
“There was a pop up and we had some miscommunication,” she said. “I reacted to the ball coming down, and when I went for it my knee kind of twisted.
“It was pretty nerve-racking. I waited five days for the (MRI) results and had to wait two or three more to get cleared (to play). It's a bone bruise. It's getting better, and I don't feel (the pain) much now.”
Dame credits hitting coach Molly Clexton with her improvement at the plate. Dame has the tendency to crowd the plate – thus all of hit-by-pitches – and Clexton encouraged her to back off a bit. This and other tips have made Dame one of the top leadoff hitters in the Macomb Area Conference.
“(Clexton) helped me with the bat angle,” Dame said. “I wasn't always quick with my hands, and she helped me with my bat speed. And she really helped me with my confidence. I was nervous as a freshman. Even my friends noticed a difference with me at the plate.”
Every player had to deal with the COVID season, and Dame just tried to make the best of it.
“I'd play catch with my brother (Brian), my dad or my mom,” she said. “My parents bought me a net so I could practice hitting in the backyard. Even though I missed that (sophomore) season, I did play travel during the summer. With that extra time I was able to work on my hitting. It was the part of my game that I was lacking in confidence.”
While many players might have taken a step back after missing out on 2020, Dame displayed tremendous improvement heading into her junior year.
“She's fearless,” Fleming said. “She doesn't give any of the plate away. She's not a slap hitter. She's disciplined. What she does is use what we call a quick bunt. As a right-hand hitter, she wants to get out of the box quickly. She's a singles and doubles hitter, and she told me this year she wants to hit a home run.”
Another goal is to win an MHSAA Division 1 District title. Dame has not been a part of a District-winning team, and to accomplish that South most likely would have to defeat its biggest rival, Grosse Pointe North. South has had an up-and-down season but sits 13-9 after losing to Warren Regina on Thursday.
“We're a good team,” Dame said. “As a team, we need to get our heads into the game. We've made too many mental mistakes.”
Dame does plan to continue playing the sport in Ann Arbor. She hopes to join U-M's club program.
Tom Markowski primarily covered high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. He also is a former correspondent and web content director for State Champs! Sports Network. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grosse Pointe South shortstop Shannon Dame prepares to defend her side of the infield. (Middle) Dame has started for the Blue Devils since her freshman year. (Below) Dame stands in ready for the next pitch. (Photos courtesy of the Grosse Pointe South softball program.)
Bedford Sophomore Powers Up with 23 Homers, Just Getting Started
By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com
June 7, 2023
TEMPERANCE – Here’s a warning for softball teams facing Temperance Bedford the next couple of seasons: Intentionally walking Aubrey Hensley only gives her more confidence.
The Kicking Mules sophomore just finished her season with 23 home runs in 39 games, shattering school and Monroe County records. She remembers the home runs from the season that ended in the Division 1 District Finals, but she also remembers the walks.
“Our first game of the season, my first at-bat, I didn’t even get a swing in,” Hensley said. “As a hitter, it plays with your mind, but it also gives you confidence. If I go to the plate and they aren’t even willing to pitch to me, that gives me even more confidence. The next time up, I’m really going to look for my pitch.”
Hensley saw plenty of pitches she liked this season. She hit just a tick below .500 (61 hits in 124 at-bats), with seven doubles, five triples and nearly two dozen homers. They were pretty much split between the newly renovated Kicking Mules field in Temperance and road games.
Her most memorable home run was at Ypsilanti Lincoln.
“I usually have pretty good games at their field,” she said. “This year I hit a home run and hit the building which is behind the fence. That was a good one. I liked that watching and hearing that one hit.”
Hensley grew up in Toledo and moved across the state line in fifth grade. By then she was already involved in northwest Ohio travel softball programs.
“Softball kind of came naturally for me,” she said. “I loved to go to the field with my mom (Amanda) or my brother or just hit off the tee. I just have a mentality that I’m a good hitter and I can do whatever I put my mind to.”
Prior to her freshman season, Mules coach Marla Gooding, a first-grade teacher at Bedford, sent Hensley into the weight room.
“I was not expecting to hit home runs going into my freshman season,” Hensley said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.
“When I was little, I wasn’t always a power hitter. I would hit a few doubles or triples and get into the ball some. I worked and put in time in the weight room, especially going into the freshman year. I think that really contributed to my home run hitting. Coach had us in the weight room during the season a little bit. It helps to develop your body to be a power hitter.”
With the power in place, Hensley began concentrating on swinging through the ball.
“I don’t expect to hit a home run every time, but I go up to the plate thinking it’s possible,” she said. “I’m swinging to get through the ball and just drive it somewhere. I’m not hitting for contact. If you just go up hitting for contact, you are swinging lighter, and if it doesn’t go far, you start doubting yourself. I just go up and swing to drive the ball.”
Countless hours hitting off the tee and facing batting practice pitchers helped her fine-tune her swing.
“I don’t like to get down on myself, because then it snowballs onto the field or another at-bat,” she said. “Short memory is one thing we really wanted to work on this year. I think I applied that more. It’s difficult sometimes if you aren’t getting the pitches that you want or aren’t producing. I just try to go up there with some swag and get the job done.”
Gooding called her a dream to coach.
“She’s a power-five softball player,” she said. “And the greatest kid ever. Seriously, a workhorse and team-first mentality.”
On the field, she is the Bedford catcher. She didn’t commit an error all season.
Hensley was a pitcher at a young age but loved the transition to behind the plate.
“When I got behind the plate, I loved it,” she said. “It’s like being a general out there controlling the whole field. I get to see everyone and everything. I put in a lot of work when I was little. I started with the basics and just advanced from there. I’m pretty dedicated to being the best I can behind the plate for my pitcher.”
Hensley will balance her summer of babysitting, playing basketball for the Mules in June and a busy summer travel softball season that will take her around Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee. She helped the Kicking Mules set a school record for wins with 23 and win a District title in basketball last winter.
Hensley isn’t the only Bedford softball player to show power this season. As a team, Bedford hit 51 home runs, including 12 by teammate Payton Pudlowski. That is one of the reasons Hensley isn’t simply intentionally walked time after time.
“We have some solid pieces behind her, and the two girls in front of her got on base all of the time,” Gooding said. “It was hard for other teams to do that.”
With 23 home runs this season, Hensley’s put her name among the top five all-time single seasons in state history. The record is 29 by Kali Heivilin from Three Rivers in 2021.
With 34 career home runs, she is almost in the top 25.
Hensley isn’t concerned about records right now, except for one thing. She wants to put up a number that, by the time she graduates, is out of this world.
As she tells it, “I want to push the record so far that no one can touch it by the time I’m done with my career at Bedford.”
She might already have.
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Bedford’s Aubrey Hensley prepares to drive a pitch this season. (Middle) Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. (Photos by Christine Kwiatkowski.)