As we look to close out the 2019-2020 school year, no one was anticipating a winter sports season cut short at a critical moment and a spring sports season called off due to a worldwide pandemic. The “What could have been?” discussions will no doubt slip in and out of reflections on this past year as we look at calendars of canceled sporting events and say goodbye to our senior athletes. However, one thing that we must not do is dwell on unfortunate events that are out of our control. As we plan for a future with many questions and uncertainties about what sports may look like next year, there is value in looking back to past Beech Grove athletes who can remind us of the importance of focus and dedication to skill. This is an opportunity to remind ourselves that being a dedicated student-athlete is about the journey and finding opportunities in unlikely places. Beech Grove’s first Marion County Athlete of the Year, Michelle (Hess) Baugh, can help us return to that mindset.
Michelle graduated from Beech Grove High School in 1990, and this year marks the 30-year anniversary of her being named Marion County’s top female athlete. As a standout volleyball player and three-sport athlete, Michelle broke school records in volleyball, basketball, and softball. She was a force as an all-around senior student-athlete in 1990 and received the attention of many D1 scouts. She even gained national recognition as a Teen Magazine Athlete-of-the-Year semifinalist. As she wrapped up her senior year, Michelle had broken five school records, was named MVP for two seasons in volleyball and basketball, and had earned a full-ride scholarship from the University of Louisville for Volleyball.
Often we look at a successful athlete and think that it is just natural ability. They were born with that gift. Rarely do people appreciate the sacrifices, hours of practice, or hard lessons dedicated athletes face to earn those successes in their sport. Michelle’s journey started at Beech Grove and the hours and lessons learned here allowed her to thrive well beyond high school. She recalled her high school volleyball coach Donna Hirt teaching her the value of teamwork and using leadership to make everyone around her better. It was through Hirt that Michelle learned that encouraging through positive feedback would not only improve her teammates’ performance but also her own. That advice worked. Michelle averaged 12-15 kills a match with an all-time high of 18 in one game. Michelle recognized that volleyball was her best pathway to college. To get there she knew she needed to play as much as possible. This required a very difficult decision in her junior year to give up playing softball and join the Circle City travel volleyball team. Telling her coach, Miss Weaver, she wasn’t going to be on the team was one of the hardest things she had to do up to that point. Michelle felt broken; she felt like she was betraying her teammates. It was a sacrifice Michelle knew she needed to make and Miss Weaver was supportive. It paid off with a full-ride scholarship to the University of Louisville. Fortunately, Hess was able to return to the softball team during her senior year. At U of L Michelle continued to develop as an athlete and led the team to four conference championships. Her senior year she was team captain and MVP. It was also at U of L where Michelle majored in Communications which has led to a successful career as an insurance broker. Michelle (Hess) Baugh certainly had natural ability, but she also pointed to preparation, perseverance, and discipline as critical skills developed during her years as a student-athlete. Those are the unseen skills that lead to success. They are more important than points scored, minutes played, or awards earned.
Finding Opportunity in Unlikely Places
What happens when we’re forced into a situation that takes us out of our comfort zone? Some want to escape as quickly as possible. Some people shut down or close off potential pathways to unseen opportunities. Michelle has some great stories that can teach us what happens when we embrace those uncomfortable situations and create new opportunities for learning. As a senior in high school, Michelle remembers that the choir teacher, Mr. Bradford, saw a different type of performer in her. He asked that she think about trying out for the school’s show choir The Jubileers. The unexpected opportunity led to one of Michelle’s proudest achievements and all-time favorite memory from high school. As a senior, she was selected to sing the solo to Bette Midler’s “The Glory of Love” at their spring concert.
Later in life, Michelle was hit with some difficult news. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006. She didn’t know much about the disease but just knew it was a chronic disease that could lead to physical disability and would never go away until a cure was found. Again, she took the news in stride and created opportunities for growth. As an advocate, Michelle joined the MS Society and started sponsoring walk teams and raising awareness. She later served as chair for the MS Society’s Kentuckiana chapter.
Most recently Michelle has been involved in a program called Mission Behind Bars. She will be mentoring men and women who have been in long term incarceration and are set to be released. The program helps them find housing, build skills for employment, and find jobs. Michelle’s specific role will be assisting with job searches, ensuring proper attire, and developing interviewing skills.
Opportunity is rarely just handed to us. You have to seek it out. You have to fight for it. Sometimes you have to simply create it not always knowing the end result. To our student-athletes, we hope you can take the experiences of those who came before you and look to them for inspiration. Every athlete comes into their sport at a specific skill level. The expectation is not that every student-athlete will be a D1 standout crushing school records every season. The expectation is a mindset of improvement and tenacity in pursuit of a goal. Michelle (Hess) Baugh can be an example for current Beech Grove students looking to cement that mindset into their skill improvement. It is a mindset that supersedes sport and provides a pathway to success in all facets of one’s life. Thank you Michelle for providing that example to our students, and we’re proud to call you a Beech Grove Hornet.
Michelle (Hess) Baugh, a 1990 Beech Grove graduate, currently lives in Louisville, KY with her husband David Baugh. They have three daughters. In addition to her career and volunteer work, Michelle is the assistant boys volleyball coach at Trinity High School. Although boys volleyball is not a sanctioned sport in Kentucky, they are working to grow the sport as much as possible.