TAMPA – Maddie Tomas is a junior high student who refuses to give up – even when the odds seem stacked against her.
Tomas is a student at Morning Star School who battles daily with a learning disability, which has always meant she worked harder than anyone to simply digest her schoolwork. At Morning Star, however, she has learned to overcome every obstacle, earning A’s and B’s while looking forward to attending Tampa Catholic next year.
Morning Star is a Catholic school for students who have learning disabilities and related learning challenges. Tomas acknowledges that she has problems memorizing and that large classrooms can be intimidating, but says she is ready for the challenge.
Another challenge she seems to be ready for is on the diamond. Tomas is ready to claim her stake at being one of the best softball pitchers in Hillsborough County. She has a 60 mph fastball and is on her way to mastering six pitches. And she’s already one of the best hitters on her travel club team, the Tampa Mustangs, that is based in northwest Hillsborough County. In fact, she has already heard from a few colleges.
Two years ago, Tomas met with the Tampa Catholic softball coach and made her statement in the only way she knows how – with complete honesty.
“I’m going to be your starting pitcher in two years,” Tomas said. “Nobody will work harder than me.”
Hard work is something Maddie is more than familiar with.
It started early. Maddie had a hard time speaking at an early age and her mother, Michelle, had her in speech therapy. And while she continues with speech therapy today, the thoughtful and articulate young lady isn’t ashamed of her learning disabilities.
“A lot people wonder why I go to Morning Star, but it’s the best thing that ever could have happened,” Maddie said. “People don’t know I am learning disabled, but I don’t care if they know.”
Her oasis has always been on the diamond. Her father, Joey, was a college wrestler who got Maddie started in T-ball when she was 4. She played with the boys and was usually one of the best on her team. She started softball when she turned 6 and has been on every all-star team since. But it all started to come together when she started pitching. Her repertoire now includes a fastball, curve ball, drop, riser, backdoor curve and changeup and is developing a screwball.
The force behind her pitching prowess is none other than former UCLA pitcher Kaci Zerbe, her pitching coach. And while Morning Star doesn’t have a team, Maddie makes up for that away from school and can often be found shooting hoops down the block from her house in Carrollwood.
Sports and school can be a challenge, but it is one that Maddie accepts.
“I know I have to adapt to Tampa Catholic with the bigger classes, but I love challenges,” she said. “There’s nothing I can’t do.”
“She’ll work longer and harder than anybody,” added her mother, Michelle. “There’s nothing she can’t do when she puts her mind to it.”
“The schoolwork and the pitching don’t always come easy,” Maddie said. “I have a difficult time processing things and sometimes I need to go over things a couple of times. It isn’t easy to memorize things. When I am pitching, I have to study like it’s homework, trying to remember signs, but I have always had perfect coaching.”
At school, her coaching started when she was around 3. That’s when her parents noticed that she wasn’t putting words together. Soon came public school and Maddie was becoming more and more frustrated. Still, she had softball, where she excelled and fit in with her teammates.
Michelle said they heard about Morning Star and that it would be a perfect fit. Maddie said it was a “nightmare” going to public school since she couldn’t keep up, but that softball and Morning Star changed her world.
Maddie is 14 now – she was held back a year before moving on to Morning Star – and she said she’s ready to take on Tampa Catholic, college, softball, and anything else the world throws her way.