When Katelyn Wyatt first stepped on the field in Portland, Ore., for the Little League Softball World Series as a 12-year-old, she had no idea that this experience would give her a unique perspective that would drive her willingness to help during a global pandemic many years later.
Wyatt, a senior softball player, grew up in Wilkesboro. She started playing softball, and instantly fell in love with the game when she went to the field to watch her older cousins play.
“I started playing softball when I was around four or five years old and have loved it ever since,” Wyatt said. “With my cousins playing, I felt as though it was something I wanted to learn, too.”
After playing for a couple of years in her small town, Wyatt had the opportunity to join the Wilkes County All-Star team at age 12. The team went on to claim the North Carolina Little League softball title and win the Southeast tournament, earning a spot in the Little League Softball World Series.
Up until her trip to Portland, Wyatt had only experienced softball at the local level and was shocked to learn that this sport was played worldwide.
“I did not realize that softball was all over the world like it was,” she added. “There were teams from Italy, the Philippines, Latin America, and teams from all across the United States.”
After a couple of early wins in the tournament, the nervousness of playing in Portland quickly turned to a feeling of just having fun.
“This was the closest thing I’ve ever played in terms of the energy and competition you feel with playing college softball. We had no idea we were going to make it that far, so we felt as though we would just play for fun and see what happened.”
What happened was her Wilkes County All-Star team earned a spot in the ESPN televised semifinals. Wyatt still vividly remembers walking on that field for the semifinal contest.
“I remember showing up that day and seeing all of the cameras around the field and how nervous I was to not screw up, because everyone was watching back home,” said Wyatt.
Even though her team lost in the semifinals and finished in third place, Wyatt will never forget her experiences in Portland, including meeting and interacting with the other teams.
“In between games, we would talk about where everyone came from and what their home country was like. The team from the Philippines, because they knew multiple languages, served as translators between the teams. The culture shock of all of these teams from different places really stuck with me.”
This opportunity to compete on the national stage in Portland showed Wyatt that there is an entire world outside her small community, which paired with her ambition to help people gave her an idea of how to pursue a career off the field.
“This experience showed me that I wanted to see more of the world and to see what my options would be outside of the softball field,” Wyatt said.
After finishing out her career with the Wilkes County All-Stars and the Wilkes Central high school team, Wyatt attended Lenoir-Rhyne University before transferring to Lees-McRae for her sophomore year as a biology major with a specialization in biomedical sciences.
During her first two years in the program at Lees-McRae, Wyatt completely fell in love with working with DNA and microorganisms. This, in her mind, was a way to give back to the global community she was introduced to in Portland.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in full effect near the end of her second year in Banner Elk, Wyatt was once again reminded of the world outside of her small community at Lees-McRae.
As sports were halted, including her 2020 softball season, and the world began to come together to combat this virus, Wyatt used the experience she gained as a 12-year-old to develop a newfound drive to use her knowledge and skills to make a difference.
“I’ve decided to pursue a career in a lab to help coronavirus testing. I would love to be part of the team that develops a vaccine for the virus.”
Wyatt, who will be finishing her degree and her playing career at Lees-McRae this year, is ready to make a difference not only in Banner Elk and her hometown of Wilkesboro, but on the global stage to help combat COVID-19.