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After troubled past, Madrigal excels as student athlete for Gila Ridge
Athletics frequently give a player an opportunity at redemption.
They can make up for costly early errors by coming through for the team later. No matter how bad things get, there are plenty of chances to realize that there's still time to turn it around.
But for Melissa Madrigal, redemption extends to off the field, as well.
During her first two years in high school, she was headed down the same, unfortunate path that plague plenty of teenagers every year. There were late nights and skipped classes, an embarrassing grade-point average, waiting a semester to get back into the school she was kicked out of and an general apathy partly stemming from the death of two people close to her.
Now a junior, Madrigal has a GPA hovering around 3.0, is a major part of the school's yearbook committee and is the starting second baseman for the Gila Ridge softball team.
She realized no matter how bad things get, there are plenty of chances to turn it around.
The tough stretch
Madrigal enrolled at Yuma High her freshman year, joining her sister, Marissa — who played softball for the Criminals before graduating last spring.
But at the beginning of October, Madrigal's family was hit with devastating news.
Her cousin, Stevie Guiettero, found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Guiettero was walking down the street in Salinas, Calif., wearing basketball shoes with red in them — which caused somebody to kill him right there.
“Where he lived, you can't wear red or blue and his Jordans had red on them, so they went up to him and killed him,” Madrigal said.
She and her family moved to California to be with their grieving extended family for the rest of the semester. By the time she came back, her friend Anthony Acosta was struck and killed in a hit-and-run at Avenue 9E on Jan. 13, 2011.
“I didn't recover from my cousin passing away and then I had a friend pass away here in Yuma,” Madrigal said. “I just didn't have time to recover. I didn't go to school and all my friends were sad and my family was sad from my cousin passing away. Everything was down. I just didn't care.”
‘I was into some bad habits'
Students at Gila Ridge are required to have 22 credits to graduate — with three credits per semester and half a credit per class.
At the start of softball season last year, Madrigal had one credit and hadn't finished a semester.
“I was into some bad habits, messing around. I would be out late and I was hardly home. I didn't really care about my school or anything.”
At the start of her sophomore year, Madrigal said, she went on a camping trip and after being bitten by mosquitoes — which she was allergic to — she was given prescription drugs. Around September, the school found her with the pills and kicked her out of the school. She tried online classes but more often than not, that led to surfing the Internet. Her academics continued to tumble as she traveled further and further down the wrong path.
Then a pair of things came and turned her around.
Madrigal was let back into Gila Ridge the following semester and decided to come out for softball — which she grew up playing but quit when she turned 13.
For the first two weeks of practice, she was chronically late — which caused Gila Ridge coach Jaime McGalliard to confront the troubled infielder.
“I tried out and she called me over and she was, like, there's no more being late,” Madrigal said. “You have to show up to school every day. Your grades matter. I need you to focus and if you're willing to be on varsity, you're going to focus.”
“She was making a lot of bad decisions and I think she was trying to find herself as a person and figure out who she was,” McGalliard said.
Also helping Madrigal in the turnaround was her girlfriend.
“She didn't like the way I was. She was, like, ‘Change for me or it's over.' Straight up about it,” Madrigal said.
The result was a full transformation.
She now has 15 credits from online classes on top of her regular classwork. Her GPA went from 1.67 as a sophomore to right around 3.0 as a junior with an interest in U.S. history and plans of becoming a county sheriff — the irony of which is not lost on Madrigal.
“I used to run from the cops, now I want to be a cop,” she said with a laugh.
Now Madrigal is the feisty second baseman for a Hawk team that made a run in last year's state tournament. There were some times, after the change, that Madrigal fell and she said there are still moments her mind drifts back to what her old friends are doing on the weekends and hears the wild stories but she has an understanding about herself. She knows that if she got around to that stuff, she would be tempted but realizes it's not worth it.
For McGalliard, the transformation has come in part from the mutually beneficial relationship she has with softball.
“Tigers don't change their stripes, especially overnight. But this has been continually been getting better and getting better,” McGalliard said. “I think (softball) was something that she needed just as much as it needed her. We needed that spunk and that flair that she brings, but I think she needed this to help shape herself and make herself a better person.”
The teachers and friends have noticed and embraced the change in Madrigal.
“She's attentive, acquisitive, ready to learn and extremely polite,” said Tricia Ellsworth, who teaches U.S. history at Gila Ridge.
“I remember seeing her and being a little nervous around her,” teammate Ariana Rader said. “But when you get to know her, she's a really nice girl and always caring about other people. The past is the past. The way she is now is the way she is.”
There is still evidence of her older, reckless days with a pair of tattoos on her right forearm, which she said she wants to get removed when she turns 18. But gone are the four lip rings, gauged earrings, tongue ring and eyebrow ring.
“I took them off because it was softball season and I wanted to clean up.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on facebook at Facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.