Kerry Cheely knows what pressure-packed situations can feel like.
The News-Gazette’s first-ever high school baseball Player of the Year starred in such scenarios during the early 1990s at Villa Grove.
But watching your only child go through those moments?
Well, completely different emotions.
But Reagan Cheely’s two-run homer for Parkland softball to break a 1-1 tie with Lincoln Land this past Monday afternoon during the Region 24 championship game in Champaign didn’t just help the Cobras advance to the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the first time since 2012 with a 3-1 win.
It gave her dad a life-changing memory.
“Watching her hit her home run will be etched in my mind forever,” Kerry said. “I was a little upset on the prior pitch because her sacrifice bunt went foul. I knew how important it was for them to get the runner into scoring position. The next pitch is the one she squared up. Seeing that gave me goosebumps.”
The Cheely name has long surfaced in Villa Grove when it comes to excellence in baseball and softball. Kerry earned The N-G’s Player of the Year accolade in 1990 by hitting .632 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI for the Blue Devils. Unbeknownst to him when he was putting up those gaudy statistics is he would find his name etched in local baseball history.
A phone call from former N-G sportswriter Fred Kroner changed all of that.
“After the season was over, he called to tell me that I was selected as the Player of the Year,” said Kerry, who went on to play baseball for two seasons at Parkland and then wrapped up his college career at Bradley. “I wasn’t aware that something like that existed, but I gratefully accepted.”
Since then, 27 different baseball players have won the honor in the past 30 years. After not having a Player of the Year in 2020 since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season, a new local talent will add his name to the list this summer.
“In my opinion, All-Area selections are really important to kids,” Kerry said. “It’s the cherry on top. There are a lot of great athletes out there that might not get selected to the All-Area team, and it certainly doesn’t define someone if they don’t make it. But having that goal in mind can be a huge motivator for athletes. Who doesn’t want to get recognized for working hard, setting a goal, helping your team win and then being thanked for doing it?”
Reagan did just that during three standout seasons playing for Villa Grove. She earned N-G First Team All-Area honors as a freshman, sophomore and junior, but did not get the chance as a senior since her final season playing with the Blue Devils was canceled last spring because of the pandemic.
She’s proving why she was one of the area’s best in high school during her first season at Parkland, hitting .427 with 19 home runs, 69 RBI, a team-best 21 doubles and nine stolen bases for the 51-7 Cobras.
Reagan will need to keep up her superb production later this month when Parkland heads to Oxford, Ala., for the national tournament that is set to run May 25-29.
Her dad will be in attendance. Probably pacing. But still enjoying the moment and the experiences the sport has given to him throughout his life.
Now 48 years old and living in Villa Grove with his wife, Jennifer, Kerry is far removed from his own playing career. But the Cheely name still carries some weight in these parts.
It’s just his daughter having the chance to find herself in the headlines these days.
Dad couldn’t be more proud.
“My family was always at the park playing ball,” Kerry said. “So, I guess Reagan didn’t have a lot of say so into whether or not she was going to play ball. I guess it was a lifestyle that she was born into. Having the privilege of watching her grow up and develop into the person and player she is now is likely one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at email@example.com.