CHATHAM, NJ - A peek into how determined Bonnie Kennedy can be once she sets her mind on something might be explained by the time it took a certain third grader to master riding a unicycle.
The Chatham softball standout remembers going to the circus as a youngster and wanting to learn how to ride a unicycle. Her mother, Mary, got her one and Kennedy spent months learning how to ride it.
"I would fall and cry and get frustrated, but I kept working at it," Kennedy said. "It took a couple months of practice to get it. Then I'd ride around my neighborhood on my unicycle. When I set my mind to something, I've got to do it. If I'm not doing well in a game, it motivates me to go out on Sundays and hit."
The senior center fielder entered the 2017 season with an eye on reaching 100 career hits and, to no one's surprise, No. 100 came Monday with a home run to right center against Madison.
Bonnie Kennedy is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
The persistence it took to balance a unicycle is the same unwavering work ethic Kennedy brought to becoming a left-handed slap hitter. A natural right-handed hitter, her youth coach, Alexis Davies, also the former Chatham High coach, convinced her to take advantage of her exceptional speed and bat left-handed.
"I never had anyone as fast a Bonnie when I coached here," Davies said. "It was a no-brainer to make her a slap hitter. If she bunted every time up, she'd have a .500 batting average. She's just that fast.
"A good friend of mine is a college coach at Stevens Tech and she commented on how Bonnie is so, so fast. That's her gift. She's actually a very good slap hitter. She's better left-handed than she was right-handed. It's hard to learn (how to slap hit) and it took a lot of time. It's totally a credit to her work ethic that she was able to do it. She'll get better when she gets to college. Since she was a little girl, she's loved the game. She owes a lot to her father and her work ethic."
Kennedy joins an elite list of 100-hit Chatham softball players that includes Kelly Winans, Alex St. Romain, Kendall Davies and Amanda Fazio. Now an assistant softball coach at Denison University, Fazio finished with Chatham school records of 878 strikeouts and 137 hits.
This season, Kennedy is batting .333 with 20 runs, 23 hits and 14 stolen bases through 18 games. Her career totals so far are 103 hits, 48 steals, 69 runs and a .338 average.
The 5-2, 115-pound leadoff hitter, who is headed to American International, is not one to rest on her laurels. The drive to succeed still burns within her.
"I love to play softball, but it's also very frustrating at times," she said. "I'm very hard on myself so I always want to work and work and work to get as good as I can. I always feel that I have more to work on. I'm a very determined person. I just kind of push myself. After my game (Tuesday), I didn't have a great game so I just go to the Y and run and bike and relieve all my stress. My parents think I'm crazy because I go and work out after my games.''
Her father, Rob, knows the extra practice his daughter puts into softball because he's been there on those Sunday mornings when the two work out at Shunpike Field, swinging the bat and shagging fly balls.
"Every Sunday morning we go and hit and do some outfield," she said. "We've done it forever. When I was little we would always go out and practice together. That was our thing. Get a Noah's bagel afterward and bond. He tells me one thing and I think I know how to do it better."
Rob Kennedy was a speedy leadoff hitter for the Chatham Township High baseball team in his day and his daughter credits him with her inherited fleetness.
"My mom likes to say that I got my speed from her, but it was really my dad," Kennedy said. "I can probably beat him in a race now, but he was really fast. He's worked with me my whole life."
Chatham head coach Brian Figueiredo learned something that impressed him about Kennedy before she even played her first game for him. Before the start of last season when Figueiredo took over, he knew there was a hole at second base because Chloe Blanc had decided to concentrate on basketball and give up softball. The coach pondered his options before asking center fielder Kennedy to make the move to second base for her junior year.
"I said it would really help the team and she said she'd do it," Figueiredo said. "She's all about helping the team. That was a big sacrifice for a kid who was looking to go to college and play center field. She did a fantastic job at what I consider an essential position. In the outfield, she has a great arm and she covers the gaps.
"She really loves the game and wants to get in as much softball as she possibly can."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.