'Her legacy will live on': Softball star dies after bout with cancer

Photo: Albert Cesare, Montgomery Advertiser

'Her legacy will live on': Softball star dies after bout with cancer

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'Her legacy will live on': Softball star dies after bout with cancer

Alex Wilcox, the Brantley native whose fight with ovarian cancer put a national spotlight on a naturally shy teenager, died Monday night.

She was 18.

“Cancer didn’t win this battle,” Brantley softball coach Cindy Hawthorne said. “God needed her with him. She’s a fighter until the end, as I knew she would be.”

Wilcox was diagnosed with ovarian cancer before her junior season at Brantley in 2016, almost a year before she signed with Mississippi State. She just finished her freshman season with the Bulldogs, where she helped spark a cancer-awareness movement.

“When she signed with Mississippi State, I said then she was the face of Brantley softball,” Hawthorne said. “I don’t see that changing. Now hundreds of thousands across this nation know her and her story.

“Her legacy will live on.”

Funeral arrangements were pending Monday night.

“Alex is no longer suffering,” Hawthorne said. “It’s us who are left behind that are going to suffer just missing her.

“We know where she is, and I just thank God for that assurance. I’m going to live to be with her one day.”

Wilcox played in 16 games this season as a freshman at Mississippi State, which honored her and everyone afflicted with ovarian cancer with special weekday jerseys. Opposing schools also supported the cause.

“The bravest, most courageous young lady I have ever known went through the toughest battle with a smile on her face every day,” MSU coach Vann Stuedeman said in a release Monday night. “The grace and beauty that she put forward while suffering this horrific disease was truly remarkable and nothing short of heroic. Our hearts are broken for her family and all of those that loved her so dearly.”

Wilcox played a big part in Brantley’s latest state championship, too, despite her status as an alumni.

In May at Lagoon Park, Wilcox was in the stands when the Bulldogs celebrated their fourth championship in five seasons — but she didn’t stay there.

AHSAA associate executive director Tony Stallworth, a former longtime Brantley coach and principal, made a special request of Wilcox and elicited her help handing out the trophy.

“Alex means a lot to the community,” Stallworth said Monday night. “It’s obvious her softball contributions were noticeable, but there was also her fight and her struggle and her love for her teammates.

“It’s a sad day. It’s definitely a sad day for the Brantley family and, in times like these, we are definitely family.”

It required Wilcox’s friends and family, who were surrounding her outside the fence, to get her to agree to help.

The Bulldogs swarmed her to collect the trophy.

“How fitting that it was that she was at the state tournament and walked that trophy out to us,” Hawthorne said. “We didn’t know what a great memory that was going to be.

“Even that day, she looked at me and said, ‘Coach, it’s not about me. It’s about y’all.’”

Wilcox tried to avoid any further spotlight, though the Bulldogs wouldn’t allow it.

“I would rather it be about them,” she said then. “I’m so proud of them.”

But her former teammates had dedicated their season to her. They honored her with a sticker on their helmets and a fake tattoo on their wrists.

“I just wish we would have done it last year when she was still on the team,” pitcher Leanna Johnson said that day. “It was emotional seeing her out there.”

Wilcox was a star pitcher on Brantley’s first state championship team when she was a freshman in 2014. That year, she also verbally committed to Mississippi State.

After a thumb injury playing basketball as a sophomore, Wilcox became a full-time outfielder. The Bulldogs won state titles her sophomore and junior years, too.

“Gosh, the memories, there are so many,” Hawthorne said. “As a ninth-grader, the very first state championship, she was in the circle. Wow, just going out there and just the sheer joy of that last out, that last strike. We ran and jumped into each other’s arms.

“Just the sheer delight on her face when that last strike was called. There are many others, but that one sticks out.”

But those feelings go beyond the softball field, Hawthorne said.

“Whatever the family needs, we’re there for them. There are no limits to that,” she said. “The Wilcox family is near and dear to every sports program at Brantley.”

Hawthorne last saw Wilcox on Monday afternoon and said the visit was tougher than coaching in four state championship games. Hawthorne said she’s coached for 22 years and “never lost a player.”

“We’re going to learn to live with it, and we’re going to keep her memory alive,” Hawthorne said. “All these kids in Brantley look up to her.

“Her legacy will live on until the end of time.”

The somber feelings can be summarized by the first sentence Hawthorne said after answering the phone Monday night.

“This,” she said, “isn’t how it was supposed to end.”

For more, visit the Montgomery Advertiser

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