Becky Thiele laughs at the suggestion that her father, who doubles as her softball and soccer coach at Chesapeake, could ever be accused of showing favoritism toward her on the playing field.
"If anything," she says, "it's the opposite."
Then comes the revelation -- spoken matter-of-factly and without regret.
"Plenty of times I've cried after practice," she said. "He's definitely harder on me. People see that and say, 'Why doesn't he let up on her?' But I'm used to it. It's been that way for so long, Idon't know any other way."
And, despite the pressure, she doesn'twant it any other way.
At an early age, Becky asked for, and received, Dennis Thiele's direct involvement in her athletic endeavors --starting with the Riviera Beach youth organization's softball team. And they have remained together, carefully balancing their father-daughter and coach-player relationships.
"At first, I tried not to get involved," said Dennis, the Cougars' softball coach and girls soccer assistant. "The first year, I'd bring my lawn chair, sit on it and watch. But the coach found out that I was a coach at Chesapeake and called me on the phone and asked if I would help him. I said OK, I'd do it for the kids. It was the same thing when she played soccer.
"I told her, 'I'm probably going to be twice as hard on you as I am oneverybody else so I don't unconsciously show favoritism.' She said, 'I understand. It's going to make me a better person, a better player.' I didn't want people saying, 'Well, the only reason she's on the team is because her father's the coach.'"
She heard those accusations after making Chesapeake's softball team as a freshman, but Dennis says, "I just ignore it and let her do the talking on the field, and everybody shuts up."
Becky, a 5-foot-4 senior, said, "I caught a lot of crap from a lot of people. I just had to go out there and provethem wrong."
Her batting average has increased steadily since that freshman season, when she hit .227 while facing the state's top hurlers. She batted .400 as a sophomore, .500 as a junior and ranked among the county leaders at .517 going into Friday's game at Severna Park.
This year's numbers, which include a team-leading 15 runs scored, eight RBI, five steals and no errors, have come under adverse physical conditions. Still bothered by an injury to her left knee suffered during her junior soccer season that required a brace, Becky damaged the right knee this fall when she collided with the Meade goalie. She didn't even pick up a bat over the winter to give her body a much-needed rest.
A doctor recently discovered that Becky's kneecaps point inward -- a condition known as "squinting knees." This, he concluded, may have contributed to her past maladies.
"He gave her shoe inserts that won't rectify the situation," Dennis said, "but they'll make it feel better for her when she runs."
Becky said, "In the beginning, they were really bothering me. I think it was because of thecold weather. Once it started warming up, they haven't bothered me that much. I haven't been able to slide or really run like I should be, but they're getting better."
Becky, a second-team All-County selection in both sports, tries to dismiss the injuries by saying, "Whenyou've played as long as I have, something's bound to happen."
Her freshman soccer season ended prematurely because of appendicitis, and she sat out Tuesday's practice with a chest cold that had inflamedthe lining of the cartilage around her rib cage. She stayed on the Cougars' bench with the hood of her gold sweat shirt pulled over her head.
Antibiotics and warmer temperatures provided enough relief that Thiele was able to start at second base in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Northeast. She went 0-for-3 -- her first hitless game of the season-- while making sure to drink from her own cup to prevent passing onthe virus.
"It's been a challenge for her," said Lin Sullivan, Chesapeake's head girls soccer coach and softball assistant. "She hasn't had the easiest of times in her high school athletic career. She's always had a lot to overcome, and I think it's a credit to her that she's stuck her nose in there and done her best."
The knee problemshave kept Becky from pitching this spring, so she'll end her high school career with a 6-0 record. But she doesn't yearn for a return to the mound, not after throwing around 50 games a year for summer teams.
"I got burned out a little bit in summer ball," she said.
TheCollege of Notre Dame in Baltimore, where Thiele received an academic scholarship and will major in communications, doesn't offer softball, so her playing will be restricted to soccer -- her sport of preference.
And Dennis Thiele, whose other daughter, Stacey, plays junior varsity soccer and lacrosse at Chesapeake, will return to his lawn chair with the other spectators.