When Julie Williams entered the Russian orphanage, where the country’s 2-year-old castoffs were housed, and saw the waif standing alone under a tree adorned in a raggedy purple dress and cardboard shoes, her heart immediately fell in love.
The youngster didn’t make a move, didn’t laugh or cry, didn’t interact with the other 30 or so children in the compound. The future Kaitlyn Williams simply stood there waiting to be told by an interpreter that she was about to depart for a country far, far away with a woman she’d only just met.
It took just a few weeks for young Kaitlyn to begin picking up the language, but it took nearly a year for the smell of cabbage and rice soup to quit emanating from her pores when she sweated. She’d eaten the inexpensive mixture at nearly every meal during the first two years of her life.
Fast forward 14 years and you’ll see that the waif has matured into Northwood High School honor student, doted on by her mother, loved by her teachers, respected by her teammates and become the kind of softball player most coaches want to go to war with.
Kaitlyn Williams is a key reason why the Northwood Lady Falcons will be tuning up at 4 p.m. on Friday against Our Lady of the Lake in the LHSAA Class 4A State Softball Tournament in Sulphur. Squatting behind home plate on Saturday directing her team’s 3-0 win over Lutcher, Williams took a foul tip off her knee that kept her from standing for several minutes. She shook off the pounding and stayed in the game to ensure that Kendall Smith’s pitches didn’t go awry.
“Kaitlyn is tough as nails. The only way she was coming out of that game is if she couldn’t stand up,” Northwood coach Greg Swearingen said.
When Julie Williams realized she couldn’t have children about 15 years ago, she knew God was leading her to adopt. But she didn’t have the $20,000 necessary to travel to Russia and bring someone like Kaitlyn home. Then Julie’s father died and left her enough money from an insurance policy to allow for the adoption.
“A lot of times what comes out of sorrow and pain are blessings,” Julie Williams said. “Kaitlyn has definitely been a blessing for me. There’s no greater gift my father could have given me than my daughter.”
When Julie arrived at the orphanage with her mother, she noticed that the children were a bit standoffish. They didn’t play with each other, instead following the orders of the adult caretakers who told them to where to go and what to do. She and her mother started blowing soap bubbles, which brought the youngsters to life. Kaitlyn approached with a tiny pine cone in her hand, handing it to Julie, who noticed a little brown spot in the toddler’s hand.
Thinking it was a piece of pine cone, Julie tried to brush it away. Realizing it was a freckle, she leaned down and kissed the palm. The love affair was sealed.
Initially, doctors told Julie that Kaitlyn would never walk well because of her lack of care in Russia. She had suffered from scurvy and had flat feet to boot. But shoes with arches and an introduction to competitive sports helped bring the youngster out of her physical shell.
“Kaitlyn was diagnosed with Orphanage Delay Syndrome and she wasn’t very coordinated to begin with,” Julie said. “But she began playing Tumble Bears, CABOOSA soccer, t-ball and Biddy Ball basketball.
The youngster didn’t have a clue about basketball, but coaches noticed that she was extremely aggressive on defense and suggested she give softball a try. That began when she was 9 years old.
“That first year she was the only one on the team small enough to fit into the catcher’s equipment, so that’s where she ended up,” Julie said. “Her teammates started calling her ‘Bulldog’ because no one could steal on her. Now most of them have shortened it to just ‘Dog.'”
Williams played centerfield as a freshman at Northwood but moved behind the plate last year. She isn’t gifted with a lot of size, but makes up for it in other ways.
“Kaitlyn plays the game fearlessly,” Swearingen said. “She’s not afraid to try to pick off a runner and she does that all on her own. We don’t have set plays to call for that.”
Kaitlyn is often seen before games sneaking up behind Swearingen, removing his ball cap and rubbing his bald head. She started that tradition last year and some of her teammates have picked it up. She accomplished the task just before Saturday’s playoff win over Lutcher.
“Yesterday, it was kinda gross,” she said chuckling. “But I have to do it for good luck.”
Kaitlyn has yet to make a trip back to her homeland but the excursion is on her future to-do list.
“My mom and I talk about it and she has some pictures that we look at,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder about siblings I might have that I don’t know about. I’d like to go and see where I came from.”
In the meantime, she’s given up travel ball to work at the Chocolate Crocodile on the Bossier City Boardwalk to help her single mom with her ever expanding expenses.
“My mom and I are like best friends and we never argue … which is weird,” Kaitlyn said. “But I think everything happens for a reason. I ended up here with good friends and a great family … and I’m happy.”