Mar 25, 2015

Lab Coats and Catcher's Masks

A Winning Tradition

  • Two NCAA Regional Tournament Appearances (2016, 2018)
  • Five Northwest Conference Tournament Appearances (2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)
  • Six NFCA All-West Region Athletes (One first-team, three second-team, two third-team) 
  • 4 Northwest Conference Coaches of the Year
  • 1 (NFCA) Division III National Pitcher of the Week (Abbie Bergerson, 2015)
  • Two National Top-25 Rankings (2016, 2018)
  • One NAIA Regional Tournament (1994)
  • One NAIA District Championship (1994)
  • One Cascade Conference Championship (1994)
  • 1 NAIA District Coach of the Year

By Riley Bushnell and Sarah Reid

Courtney Howard has never been one to chase after dreams without total commitment to the end goal. The junior and current captain of the #25 nationally ranked softball team is determined to get a job in cancer research once she graduates from George Fox University because of the ways this disease has touched the lives in her family.

Softball and baseball were always part of her family while she was growing up. "My older sister was a pitcher, so naturally I was the catcher." Her dad was also a semi-professional baseball player, so it only made sense for her to continue in his footsteps.

Tragedy struck Courtney's family while she was in high school. Her father passed away from Melanoma skin cancer when she was just 15, and from that moment forward she was determined to spend her life fighting against cancer. "I want to prevent people from feeling the way I felt," she says. While some athletes may have opted for an easier major, Courtney never entertained the option of studying anything other than biology.

Courtney's years as an underclassman at George Fox were incredibly stressful. As a biology major and a new member of the softball team, the overload of schoolwork and sports was getting the best of her. "I didn't know how to study before I came here. I did so well in high school and then I came here and it was a rude awakening."

She looked to her friends and family for help adjusting to collegiate academics. She remembers calling her mom after she failed her first biology exam and telling her she wanted to come home. Her mom reminded Courtney why she was at George Fox studying biology, and encouraged her to continue. "It was really encouraging to see that she wasn't angry with me. From then on I told myself I had to sacrifice some of my social life to do well in school."

Currently, Courtney is one of the best hitters for a Bruin softball team that is the best-kept secret on campus. The nationally ranked team is quietly having a great season with a 20-4 (10-2 conference) record, and Courtney is enjoying success on both sides of the plate. She recently had a two-home-run game and is batting .315 on the season. As the starting catcher and resident "vacuum cleaner," she's boasting a team-best .992 fielding percentage as the starting catcher.

When asked what the team's objective is for the season, Courtney's answer was two-tailed. "We always talk about improving a little bit every single day. Softball is a game of inches and a game of errors." She added, "I don't want to say 'make it to the conference tournament' because we have such a strong conference. Our best approach is to take it game by game. Although, we have missed the conference tournament the last two years by just one game, so we have a strong drive to get there this year."

Since the balancing act of sports and school has become more peaceful, Courtney has been able to think more about her post-graduation plans. "A few weeks ago, I went and visited OHSU and met with some George Fox alumni. Talking to them made my dreams seem so much more attainable, rather than something that was off in the distance."

"I would like to work as a lab technician for a couple of years at OHSU. Then I think after some more job experience in research, I'd like to get a PhD in molecular biology," she said. She's determined to care for those who have suffered because they lost loved ones due to cancer, much like she did. "[My father] is what this passion stems from. I realize a cure might not be something that's achievable in my lifetime but I'd like to help with different treatment methods, and maybe even develop some chemotherapy that's not as damaging to people's health."

In the meantime, she's happy to wear a lab coat to class and a catcher's mask on the field.