Unlikely bond between Whitworth softball coaches stems back deca - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Unlikely bond between Whitworth softball coaches stems back decades

Whitworth softball is in good hands with Cristal Brown. Now in her seventh season, she's taken the Pirates to unparalleled heights, including a first-ever Northwest Conference Championship and then the two after. But her path to leading this group of young women in Spokane, Washington starts in a home along the highway in Bakersfield, California, where Cristal grew up with her Grandparents.

"My Grandpa was a complex man, he drank too much, my grandmother drank too much," Whitworth softball coach Cristal Brown said. "It was either my grandma or the kids, he was going to be mad at one of us if he was drunk and you wanted to be on the good side of it."

Cristal does have good memories too, like building forts with her two younger siblings, or playing sports with the neighborhood kids. But she always knew something set her apart. 

"I knew that I didn't have people to call Mom and Dad," Brown said.

Cristal's parents weren't really ever in the picture. Her Mom Kathy had been gone since she was three, no trace of her since. Her Dad, Brent, would come around, but there was no telling when.

"He was in and out of jail eventually in and out of prison," Brown said. "He was an addict, my mom was an addict. It could be 2-3 years would go by and I wouldn't see him or it could be 6 months and i would see him. It was what it was, it was all that I knew."

But by the time she hit high school, Cristal's lifestyle was heading toward that of the parents she never knew.

"Instead of going to classes I was hanging out with the pot heads and the stoners at Circle K," Brown said. "Doing so poorly my freshman year, is what convinced my grandfather to let me pursue a sport. And he said 'well you can pick one,' so I picked softball. Little did I know that then a year later I would be transferring and the softball coach at North High would be Randy that would change forever change my life."

"She was pretty raw and found out after the course of a couple practices that she had a lot of speed and she had some athleticism," Whitworth associate softball coach Randy Clark said.

It was Randy Clark who helped turn Cristal into one of the area's best players, but little did they both know, he'd end up doing a lot more.

"One night I saw her, it was getting dark and she was walking along the road towards a main street, not a residential area," Clark said. "I found out that she got on a bus by herself, it was a very bad area."

"It wasn't until later that I found out that they followed the bus and saw where I was being dropped off," Brown said.

Before long, Cristal was staying with randy and his family in order to make weekend tournaments.

"We asked a lot of questions and got to know her pretty well and realized that her life was not great," Clark said.

"That's where they really started to get involved with helping me make a path," Brown said.

A path which took a serious turn, thanks to one phone call.

"They overheard an argument when I was on the phone with them (Brown's family) in my house," Brown said. "It wasn't the way that family members should talk to each other."

"Living in that environment would never ever work," Clark said. "If you're serious about wanting to do this, then we will do everything we can to help you, you really need to move in with us."

So, the day after graduating from North High, that's what Cristal did.

"It was a 180 flip for me to be in that home," Brown said. "You had to have trust and honesty, it was a culture shock, but I jumped in with both feet."

Randy and his family gave Cristal a new chance at life, starting with a college career which took her first to Bakersfield College, where she was a JC player of the year. Next, a stop at Azusa Pacific, and eventually All-American honors. Then, only fitting, a senior season spent under Randy, and a start up program at The Master's University.

"She became a very good leader on most of the teams that she was on, not only because she had great wisdom and common sense, but she could perform and on the field everyone respected her," Clark said.

"I had realized at that point that softball totally saved my life," Brown said. "Softball kept me from following the same path as my parents, you can't do drugs and be an athlete."

And Randy helped Cristal see that up close, reuniting her with her Dad at age 19.

"He (Cristal Brown's Dad) said 'I'm 40-years-old, I've been in this world for so long, it's too late for me to change'. Then shortly thereafter he ended back in prison, but those two days were the best days that I have ever been able to see my Dad in a normal setting," Brown said.

Then, as her family's first college graduate, a meeting with her Mom, 20 years after the last.

"Spent really the 6 and a half hours talking about her life and realized she had far less opportunity and caring in her life than I ever had," Brown said. "It's really the only memory of her, I was so young when she left that I don't really remember the first three years of my life."

Those special days spent catching up would prove to be Cristal's final memories of the parents she never had.

"I get this e-mail from my Aunt, who had let me know that my Dad had died from a drug overdose," Brown said. "They found a letter next to the train tracks and at the bottom it said 'p.s. I'm assuming that you knew that your Mom had also died 6 months prior to that'. I didn't expect to feel the sadness that I felt because i didn't really ever have a relationship with either one of them. I would have loved to have seen them be able to pull it together somehow."

Well off her parents fateful path, Cristal followed in Randy's footsteps, embarking on a coaching career which first saw her lead small-town Kingsburg High to unmatched success. Then, one day, she saw an opening.

"I texted Randy and said 'there's this school in Spokane that is looking for a softball coach, you should apply," Brown said.

"I told her 'no you should apply for this job', which she did," Clark said. "And within a matter of a week they flew her up there and quickly after they offered her the job, which surprised her."

But there was one catch.

"I will do it, but you (Randy Clark) have to be willing to come and do it with me or I'm not going to do it," Brown said.

"And I go absolutely," Clark said.

Seven years later, Cristal and Randy have turned Pirates softball into one of the area's, if not the country's, premier programs. If 2015, the Bucs won their first Northwest Conference Title - they've won two since, as well.

 "It's just a real honor to watch her and her knowledge of the sport is phenomenal and her values are right," Clark said. "She obviously wants to win, she's aggressive, but its way more than just a softball that she's into, so it's really neat to see."

A way of coaching and mentoring Cristal developed firsthand from Randy, some 20-plus years ago. A life changing and life saving bond, stronger now than ever.

"Even by touching just one person, if i can go out and do that to softball players or students or whoever it is that I come into contact with, then I'm furthering what he has done for me," Brown said. "He's my best friend, he's been a father figure to me, he's been a mentor to me, he encourages me and motivates me and sometimes yells at me to be a better person. I don't think this life happened to me just by chance, I think that God absolutely had a plan for exactly for where I'm exactly supposed to when and for Randy to be a part of that."

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