NAS PENSACOLA, Fla. –
As players on the All-Marine women’s softball team jog off the field in between innings of the opening game of the 2018 Armed Forces Women’s Softball Championship they are greeted by their first baseman who slaps hands, gives hugs and doles out the occasional chest bump, all while offering words of encouragement to help fuel her team.
That’s what makes the game special for Marine Sgt. Katie Dunkelberger, getting to have fun and connect with other people who love the game just as much as she does.
“The bond is almost instant when you become a teammate,” she said. “I think that’s what I love most, building a relationship with the people you’re playing with.”
The love for softball came at an early age for the Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania native as she started out playing catch with her dad and then moved to team ball when she was six.
“I loved it right off the bat and it kind of blossomed from there and became a passion,” she explained.
That passion would carry on as she pitched her high school team to a district championship in her sophomore year, something they had never done.
“It was one of the most amazing feelings that I’ve ever had,” she recalled. “I’ll never forget that game.”
The reason she won’t forget isn’t because of the outcome, but because of the relationships she made during it.
In the sixth inning of a tie game, a storm hit and the game was sent into a two-hour delay. During that time, her team and the players from the other team bonded as they rode out the storm.
“It wasn’t so much winning the game [that I remember], but it was sharing the passion, not just with my teammates but with everybody that was on the field,” she said. “Even after the game, we were all happy because we all knew it was an amazing experience.”
That time helped grow relationships she still has to this day.
After a year of college at the University of Hawaii, she decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and challenge herself physically and mentally.
She went to Okinawa, Japan for her first duty station, and put softball on the back burner as she focused on her job and becoming the leader she wanted to be.
At Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, her next duty station, her command had a softball tournament shortly after she arrived. They quickly noticed her skill and asked her to play on the intramural team. There one of her friends encouraged her to try out for the All-Marine softball team.
“I didn’t even know that was a thing,” she said laughing.
Now in her second year on the team, “Dank”, as they call her, is fist bumping, high fiving, low fiving and busting out handshakes all with a big smile on her face.
“I do whatever I can to keep the energy alive,” she explained. “In the military, sometimes it gets rough, and in softball sometimes it gets rough. Keeping your head up to keep others up around you is what it’s all about.”
Her team would go on to win the opening game of the tournament 15-2 over the Navy and finish third overall with a 4-5 record. But in between the hits and the scopes at first, she was able to gain something else from this tournament, relationships.
“Softball can bond people together quickly,” she said with a smile. “The people you’re playing with all love the game too.”