During the recent July 4th Holiday, most folks made memories they’ll remember for a lifetime.
Presley Michelle Walker, a soon-to-be sophomore at Liberty Hill High School, has a July 4th weekend memory from 2006 you might say led to “fireworks” of a different sort.
Walker – born Oct. 10 and supported by her parents (Billy and Katrina) and her younger sister (Payton) – plays varsity softball at LHHS and she lettered on Charice Hankins’ squad that went to the Region I finals. She also made Academic All-District as a freshman last season.
Back in the summer of 2006, Walker was 11 years old and headed into the sixth grade. She and many of her current teammates – including Kourtney Bevers, Kendyl Yandrisovitz, Lori Potts and Paige Holland, along with Tiffany Birdwell, who attends LeanderHigh School – were members of the Liberty Hill All-Star Pony League softball team that was getting ready to play in a regional tournament in hopes of qualifying for the natoinal tournament.
“We were practicing on a boys little league field on July 5, 2006,” stated Walker, an admitted lover of cheeseburgers, Taylor Swift’s music and her family. “We had to play on a grass field because there were too many pony league teams and not enough fields. We were practicing in the early evening, around 6 p.m. or so.”
Walker was playing her normal position, third base, during practice. Up stepped Yandrisovitz to take some batting practice.
“She hit a line drive that took a big hop off the grass,” Walker recalled. “I went to backhand the ball and the ball hit the lip of the grass (where the grass infield meets the edge of the dirt on the baseline) and took a backwards spin at my face. Thank God I was wearing sunglasses that day!”
Sunglasses or not, the “pop” of the ball hitting Walker in the eye was loud – and could be heard around the complex.
“I saw it happen and my first reaction was ‘That’s going to be bad,’” said Billy Walker, Presley’s father and owner of Door-2-Door Realty in Liberty Hill. “It sounded like the ball was coming off a wooden bat – it was loud and you flinched when you heard the loud ‘pop’ sound. It was awful.”
“It was the sound that got everyone’s attention and scared everyone,” Presley continued. “I remember I stumbled backward after getting hit in the eye. The sunglasses broke immediately and I staggered like a boxer that got hit hard, but I didn’t fall to the ground.
“I was in a little bit of shock; I saw stars but didn’t cry. I couldn’t feel the whole left side of my face. To be honest I really thought my eye was gone. It was swollen and the left brow was sticking way out.”
The team’s coaches – Jack Bevers, Dale Birdwell and Ronnie Potts – got to Walker quickly.
“They took me to the dugout; they had their arms around me but I was able to walk to the dugout,” Walker recalled. “They put ice on my eye right away. The coaches did a great job in calming me down.
I remember the other girls were flat-out stunned by the whole incident. They were almost crying and they were very freaked out.”
“I didn’t run to Presley right after she was hit because I didn’t want to scare her,” Billy Walker said. I walked over to the dugout because the coaches handled things very well. After they got her to sit down and put ice on her eye, I told her everything was going to be okay.”
Billy drove Presley home so they could pick up his wife, Katrina, who was on her way home. They left soon after for the emergency room in Round Rock.
“The doctors got to her pretty quickly,” Katrina recalled. “They examined her – they thought she had slight concussion and told us she had cracked her brow one, had broken her nose in one place and cracker her cheek bone.
“The doctors said if Presley hadn’t been wearing sunglasses she possibly could have either lost the eye or completely lost vision in the eye. They tested her sight – her eye was swollen shut. They took X-rays of everything, tested for a concussion, iced the swollen eye and put some eye drops in her eye.
Presley described the sunglasses that – literally – saved her eye. “They’re called ‘Iron Man’ sunglasses,” she said. “They’re rubber-ish and have poly-carbonated lenses; they’re made to bend and not break as they’re outdoor sunglasses for athletes. The frame bent when I got hit by the ball.”
Billy was online checking out masks for his daughter to wear. He went to GameFace.com where, “it talks about injuries that are pretty horrific – some were worse than others,” Walker said. “I ordered a mask that night. We got it in the team colors – purple. At first Presley had some qualms about wearing the mask but soon got over that.”
While her eye wouldn’t open for another two weeks, Presley was back out on the field – the very next day – taking some light fielding from her dad and Jack Bevers. She didn’t participate in a full work out with the team for precautionary reasons until later on.
“We’d go out there every single day and she wore the mask,” Billy stated. “If it weren't for the mask, she wouldn’t have gone out so quickly. The mask gave her the security that (another incident like she’d experienced) wasn't going to happen again and it made her feel safe.
“Her eye was still swollen shut – it was a black eye for about a year. She took batting practice too, but the challenge was to get her on the field playing third base.
That incident had long-term affects, too, as Walker and some of her teammates – like Kourtney Bevers – now wear a mask when playing softball.
“You can see the effect that her injury had on the whole Liberty Hill softball community if you go to a Youth League game out here now. Many of the kids wear them now and no one did before. The masks cost between $34 and $40 and could save your beautiful daughter a life-changing accident. Out of the 8th-grade class, 11 of 12 girls wear the masks.”
For the record, the Pony League team did qualify for nationals and Walker did get back on the field to participate in the national tournament. She remembered the very first ground ball of that tournament like it was yesterday.
“It was the bottom of the first inning,” Walker said. “I definitely had butterfies in my stomach and I was nervous. I got a ball hit to me in (the opposing team’s) first at bat. (As the grounder came to me) I reacted normal – I charged it and threw the runner out.”
Then, with a big smile on her face, Walker continued. “Everyone started cheered loudly because I got through that. I think I earned everyone’s respect after that. I remember looking at Jack (Bevers); he smiled and I felt great.”