Jim Tobin’s fast-pitch season suffered a devastating interruption a year ago.
The Shelton High School assistant coach had a leg amputated as a result of diabetes. As he recovered, a group of Highclimber players visited him in the hospital, asking if he would return to the program.
“If you’ll have me back,” he joked.
As the girls were leaving, Aurora Gouley stuck her head back into the room and told Tobin: “You can coach me anytime.”
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“That really touched my heart,” said Tobin, who has continued to be a part of the coaching staff, taking over the “C” team this season.
Gouley, a senior who excels in basketball and is one of the best softball prospects in the 3A Narrows League, has touched more than one person in her four years as a charismatic Highclimber athlete. A member of the Skokomish Indian Tribe, she became a symbol and a role model for the tribe’s younger girls, leading to an increase in the number of native players on Shelton’s teams.
“She’s not just a dedicated, great fast-pitch player, she’s a great person,” said Kim Goldsby, who is in her seventh year as Highclimbers coach. “Our team talks about her all the time like she has no flaws.”
The daughter of former Gonzaga baseball player Troy Matheny and softball-playing mom Serena Gouley, Aurora spent plenty of a time at ballparks while growing up, at first watching her parents play in amateur tournaments from a baby carrier and then organizing pickup games on the side among other children.
“I didn’t really have older girls to look up to, though. My sister played and I looked up to her, but she didn’t play in high school,” Aurora Gouley said. “To be an example to younger girls now makes me proud.”
Goldsby never had a Skokomish girl in her program before Gouley. Now there are four more: Loretta LaClair, Elena Prest, Dechiaya Littleson and Jordyn Peterson. Tobin, too, is Skokomish. Younger kids are showing interest because of Gouley.
“I’ll be at a basketball game or at softball and little kids will come running up asking me: ‘Is Aurora here, is Aurora here?’ ” Goldsby said.
The phenomenon hasn’t gone unnoticed among Skokomish leaders.
“She’s been a role model for all the kids, including my daughter Taya,” says tribal council secretary Alex Gouley, Aurora’s uncle.
“It’s hard to put into words what her success means,” said tribal chairman Guy Miller, a 14-year member of the council. “Athletes always stand out, you can’t ignore their achievements. We’ve got a lot of young girls and boys endeavoring to succeed not only in sports but scholastics, too.”
Required by the state to donate 1 percent of the proceeds from its Lucky Dog Casino to charitable causes, the Skokomish tribe has focused significant efforts on Shelton High School, providing both academic tutors and improvements to the fast-pitch program that were requested by Goldsby, including a new scoreboard, a tarp for the infield and a public address system.
“I’ve known Kim for a long time, known her family for a long time,” Miller said. “That was the start of it, but education is the council’s number one priority. We’re supportive of youth activities. We incentivize our kids for attendance, for good grades, for graduation. We find out what we can do for the school and improve the connection.”
Aurora Gouley, the calm senior shortstop and center fielder who sparked so much of that connection, expects to keep helping as an adult as well.
“I want to continue playing softball in college,” she said, anticipating a recruiting visit to College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota. “Then I want to move back home and become a nurse like my grandmother (Diane Gouley).”