With a large amount of excitement, a little splash of nervousness and a heavy dose of nostalgia, a group of roughly 25 former Brentwood High School softball players came together for a reunion at Granny White Park over the weekend.
Fittingly, the gathering featured a softball game, which allowed the former Lady Bruins to reconnect with some of their favorite moments from years gone by.
“Being back here today, it feels like coming full circle,” said Jamie (Polsteen) Chiariello, who starred for the Lady Bruins from 1990-94 and went on to play at MTSU. “This is really amazing.”
The reunion was initially created as a means of recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Lady Bruins’ 1989 state championship team, but it quickly grew into something larger. It ultimately included players from a variety of Brentwood teams from throughout the 1990s in addition to the players from the ’89 squad.
“When we realized it had been 30 years — and that we hadn’t been together in a while — we started talking about ways of getting together,” said Jennifer Beasley, a member of the ‘89 team, “and then things just kind of ballooned from there.”
Trophies and photos were on display at a table located near the stands, including the 1989 state championship trophy. Also, several banners — which marked the Lady Bruins accomplishments — were draped on the backstop.
As the various players began arriving for the gathering, the morning unfolded much like the reunion scene in the movie “A League of Their Own.”
With plenty of smiles and hugs, and even a few tears, the ladies greeted each other with comments like “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit,” and “Can you believe it’s been so long since we were teammates?”
Kristie Blurton, head coach of the '89 team, said she was thrilled so many former players were able to attend.
“Oh my gosh — this is my heart,” she said as she looked around the complex while the players mingled and chatted prior to the game. “It’s a special group of ladies, and I couldn’t be prouder. Social media helps me keep in touch with some of the girls, but there are some of them that I haven’t seen in 30 years.”
Kendra (Campbell) Rennell, who was the starting third baseman on the ’89 team as a freshman, said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the reunion. But moments after arriving, she was immediately glad she came.
“I thought it was going to be really weird, but now that I’m here, this just feels like home,” said Rennell, the daughter of long-time Brentwood volleyball coach Barbara Campbell. “This is where I grew up. Everyone looks exactly the same. I don’t know if we can move the same — but everyone looks the same.”
Although several of the ladies commented that they were nervous about getting back on the field after so many years, most of the players seemed to settle into their comfort zone shortly after the game started.
Several hard-hit balls and a couple of nice fielding plays were the highlights of the first inning, as the teams combined for two runs on five hits with one error and one pulled hamstring.
Of course, none of the stats mattered. This day was really all about friendships and memories.
“It’s really cool being back at the field where I grew up playing,” said Charity (Cope) Espinosa, who played at Brentwood from 1990-94. “I’ve only seen a few of these girls since we finished high school — so it’s really exciting being back today and seeing so many of them.”
When the 1989 Brentwood team captured the state title, it was the beginning of an amazing run by the Lady Bruins, who compiled a staggering 203-37 record from 1989 through 1994. In addition to the state title, the Lady Bruins also had three runner-up finishes during that stretch.
The tradition of success continues today for the Brentwood program. Under the direction of head coach Erica Powell, the Lady Bruins are still routinely regarded as “the team to beat” in District 11-AAA, and they have advanced to Murfreesboro for the state tournament in two of the past three seasons.
Powell played a large role in helping organize Saturday’s reunion, but purposely kept a low profile during the day.
“Honestly, I’m just here to help everything run as smoothly as possible,” said Powell, who umpired the bases during the game. “This day is all about them.”
Saturday’s reunion game drew an impressive crowd to the Granny White complex, with many of the former player’s parents finding their familiar spots in the stands, just as they had done all those years ago.
“These parents were — and are — just unbelievable,” said Rennell. “I mean, just look at how many of them are here today. They are the reason we were the team that we were. And I can appreciate it a lot more now because I have a daughter who plays golf and I am always running around with her, taking her places. It takes a lot of effort and unselfishness — and boy, our parents had it.”
Beasley said that as soon as word begin to spread about the reunion, things really fell into place.
“We started getting people from out of town who were interested in being a part of it, and Coach Powell has just been super in helping bring this together,” said Beasley. “We just had so much fun together when we were kids, and a lot of us have remained connected. Facebook makes it a lot easier.”
Several of the girls said they dusted off their gloves in the days leading up to Saturday’s game.
“One of my best friends and I went out this week and kind of threw the ball around a little bit,” said Chiariello. “And my son, who is 12 years old, hit some balls to us. But still, I don’t know how it’s going to look out there today. I’m hoping that it’s going to be like riding a bike.”
“I’ve been nervous about this all week,” added Espinosa, who drove from her home in Cookeville for the game.
For the record, many of the women showed that they still possess the skills that made them stars on the diamond during their prep careers.
“This is a very special group of girls,” said Blurton, the former coach, who then paused and said, “Actually, they’re women now — but they are still my girls. Forever and always, they will be my girls.”