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Wounded Warriors and NFL pros come together for Softball Classic

15 Jun 2015 
Written by  Rachel Bluth
Published in Sports (The Sentinel)

 BOWIE – For Isaac Arnstead of Warrenton, Virginia, being an amputee is not a disability.

“It’s kind of a privilege,” said Arnstead, who is 13. “There’s not a lot of people in the world that have amputees, so if you have an amputee it’s kind of like you’re in a family.”

Arnstead was one of the bat boys Saturday night at the Amputee Warrior Softball Classic. Members of the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team (WWAST) joined current and former NFL players to play ball and raise money for a number of charities that benefit veterans.

Each team had four members of the WWAST and several NFL members, most of whom play for the Washington Redskins or the Baltimore Ravens. Mack Wilds, from HBO’s show about Baltimore, The Wire, also played.

Each team was captained by a local player. Navorro Bowman, a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers who is originally from District Heights, captained the blue team team. Paint Branch High School alum Darnell Dockett, who also plays for the 49ers, led the red team.

While Dockett said he was happy to participate in the event, he wants the focus of the game to be on the Wounded Warriors.

“It’s not about me; it’s about those guys,” Dockett said. “They sacrifice themselves pretty much all their lives and that gives us the opportunity to do what we want to do.”

Ricky Jean-Francois, a defensive end for the Redskins, also said he was honored to play with members of the WWAST.

“Just to be playing with a veteran that has looked out for us each and every day on the front line so we can go to sleep peacefully is a blessing,” Jean-Francois said.

And though the game was for charity, he said that the competitive nature of professional sports was still present.

“It’s friendly, but it’s competitive at the same time,” Jean-Francois said.  “Nobody likes to lose, doesn’t matter if it’s a charity game, nobody likes to lose.”

Thankfully for Jean-Francois, nobody did lose. The game, which was supposed to last for only seven innings, ended in a 14-14 tie at the bottom of the ninth.

Jean-Francois said that he hadn’t even picked up a bat since the seventh grade. This fact came as no shock to Hanna Murchake from Stevensville, Maryland, who played softball for eight years.

“The football players aren’t very coordinated, so you can definitely tell the difference between them and the warriors that do actually know what they’re doing,” Murchake said.

Will Santiago, who a retired Army veteran, said softball plays a significant role in the lives of many service members. He is part of a softball team at Andrews Air Force Base, Not Forgotten, which played the WWAST last year. He said that because softball is so accessible to people of all ages and abilities, it is the perfect way to connect people from all sorts of backgrounds, including civilians and soldiers.

“Softball is an avenue to bring people together and spread the message and let people know that there are soldiers still dealing with PTSD,” Santiago said. “It’s quiet, if you don’t say anything about it, you never hear about it.”

JD Kasper, who is retired from the Air Force, is also a member of the Not Forgotten Softball team. Watching the Wounded Warriors play, he said, helps inspire other veterans.

“They send a message of what war is all about. You think that war is what you see on TV, but it’s not. This is real, these guys out here are doing the best they can with the tools they have left,” Kasper said. “It’s an inspiration.”

Roxanne Russell watched from the stands at Prince George’s Stadium as her husband, Larry Russell, coached Dockett’s red team. She attended the game with her children and her friend Rebecca Fowler. She said that she and Fowler have been through “many deployments together.” Fowler’s husband is currently deployed with the Air Force in Kuwait.

“A lot of people we know come home injured,” Fowler said. “We have seven children between us and [the WWAST] inspires them, showing them what could be.  Something bad could go wrong in your life, and you just keep going.”