By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — South Effingham third baseman Whitney Thompson has quietly gone about playing solid softball while her loose left kneecap had a mind of its own.
Since sixth grade, when she’d change directions, her kneecap sometimes slid out of place.
The hard-to-discourage 5-foot-5 non-complainer gritted her teeth and popped it back in while staying active in softball, basketball and soccer throughout middle school.
“I learned to live with the pain,” she said.
But after her sophomore softball season last fall, Thompson decided to undergo surgery to keep the knee in place and alleviate the discomfort. A procedure called medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) surgery added a ligament from a cadaver to stabilize the kneecap in the groove of the knee.
“It’s getting there,” said Thompson, who was in good spirits while helping with the Mustangs summer youth softball camp last week.
“The first time it went out I was playing basketball. Usually (in softball) when I’m pivoting, the knee would dislocate and I’d just put it back in and go on to the next play.”
But Thompson, who began concentrating on softball in high school, saw a window of opportunity to have the surgery after the prep season and before travel ball season with her Angels Gold 18U team.
“Basically, I was getting tired of dealing with the pain,” she said. “I wanted to get it done before college because I’d like to play (softball) in college.”
Thompson has been a big part of the Mustangs’ softball fortunes since she stepped in high school. Although she played third base for only one year in middle school, she started as a freshman on the varsity, displaying top defensive skills alongside highly regarded senior shortstop Alex Brown.
“I was a little surprised to start, so to play next to Alex and win the seniors over, I had a great time. It was a rewarding year,” Thompson said.
SEHS posted a 28-4-1 record, captured a region championship by knocking off defending champ Effingham County and advanced to the Elite Eight of state (normally earning a spot in Columbus but because of COVID only the semifinalists moved on in 2020).
Last season, Thompson teamed with shortstop Kenzie Ergle to form another talented left side of the infield. And Thompson, a line-drive hitter, became a force at the plate, batting .377 while earning first-team, all-region honors.
But she admitted disappointment in the 23-win season when the Mustangs lost in the region tournament. Thompson and her teammates watched the rival Rebels celebrate a title on SEHS’ home field.
“It was devastating for me and my teammates to see them get the trophy and take all the pictures, but they won,” Thompson said. “I’m not happy-happy with the results but (the season overall) was a time when we had fun. We didn’t win, but we still kept fighting.”
Battling with a dislocated knee taught Thompson something about fighting as well and it sparked an idea for a career path.
“I want to be a physical therapist and help athletes go through what I’ve gone through,” she said.