By LARRY VAUGHT
During her three years at Kentucky, Jenny Schaper has had a lot of memorable moments on coach Rachel Lawson’s softball team. She’s played in 170 games already and is coming off her best offensive season.
Yet Schaper likely will remember her summer mission trip to Ethiopia with UK Athletics as much as any big hit she’s had or big win Kentucky has had the last three years — and there have been plenty.
Schaper was thrilled that Lawson nominated her and teammate Katie Reed to make the trip and said it was a “no-brainer” to accept the offer.
“I had never left the country before. I was really excited that Katie was going, too. She’s my best friend and roommate. We grew up together (in St. Louis), so that just made it even better,” the senior catcher said.
Schaper admits she knew little about Ethiopia other than what she had seen on TV. She had no real expectations for what it might be like.
“It was even more shocking than anything I could have imagined,” Schaper said. “The kind of poverty some of them lived in was unreal. They took us to the poorest people and to see how they lived compared to how we did was eye-opening.
“The children, from the second we showed up, they ran up to the van to see us. They just wanted to touch us, play with us. Most could not speak English. There was really no communication other than hugging and playing games. But they made us feel very welcome.”
The eight UK female athletes who made the annual week-long mission trip stayed in a guest house for Ordinary Hero — a charity that partners with ministries in impoverished communities to change the lives of children in need. Ordinary Hero was the group’s tour guide that took them to orphanages and different communities to hand out blankets, food, tarps to cover homes and other items.
“We spent a significant amount of time just interacting with the kids,” Schaper said.
Even with Reed on the trip with her, there was not much softball talk.
“Everyone there talked soccer,” Schaper said. “I think it’s nice to just get away sometimes. When we came back the first thing we did was start back with softball. But it was really interesting to experience something so different and out of the norm of my every day life.
“I think I will always remember how welcoming and loving the culture there was. We were eight random girls who walked in that no one knew and they welcomed us with open arms. You would not see that every day here.”
Schaper said there was pizza and “normal stuff” to eat on the trip but the last night the UK group went to a cultural restaurant.
“We had all of their types of food. I couldn’t even pronounce the names of the food. I tried everything,” Schaper said. “The spices and texture of the meat were really different. But it was a good ending to the trip to experience that part of the culture, too.”
Now she would like a chance to experience playing in the College World Series. Kentucky has got close, losing to Oregon in the Super Regional each of the last two seasons.
“We really have a solid group of returning players. We have good chemistry. Everyone has got a lot of experience,” Schaper said. “We have a lot of new freshmen. We have to figure out quickly how to mesh with them.
“If we get all of them up to speed with us, we can be very good. We have 13 returning players and it has been an incredible ride the last three years but we want even more this year and really think we have the team to do it.”