Georgia Southwestern State University Hurricanes women’s softball coach Nicole Levering continued to marvel at one of her star players from small-town Canada.
That player was Shannon Gibson from Colborne, Ontario, about 1,900 kilometres by vehicle from Americus, Georgia.
“Shannon has been one of my all-time favourite players to coach,” Levering previously stated. “She has a work ethic like no other. She leads by example, always hustles, always wants to get better. She’s just a true athlete.”
Gibson became the GSW women’s softball team’s all-time winningest pitcher in 2020. Her NCAA career was soon to end, but instead the season was cut short in March of 2020 due to COVID-19 and spring-sports student-athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility.
There was no doubt in Gibson’s mind she would take advantage of that opportunity to return for a fifth year. She had graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and was eager to return to the classroom as well to study towards a two-year nursing degree.
This past spring, Levering lauded the fact Gibson – in addition to her success as a pitcher – was playing multiple defensive positions during the 2021 season, hitting and earning good grades while majoring in nursing.
“Very proud to have her in the GSW softball program. She will be hard to replace,” Levering said.
Gibson, now 23, considers spending five years as a student-athlete at GSW an opportunity for growth. The town of Americus reminded her of home, likening it to Cobourg where she attended high school at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School and worked a part-time job at Foodland, all part of her journey to Georgia.
“GSW has helped me develop as a student, athlete and young woman,” Gibson says. “The small-town feel and local hospitality have allowed me to feel at home from the start. During my time I have had the great opportunity of meeting many lovely families who have also supported me in my endeavours from the beginning of my softball career as a Hurricane. With the many connections I have built at GSW and the unknown path of life that lies ahead of me, no matter where I may be, GSW will always have a piece of my heart.”
Gibson, the daughter of Don and Marina, has deep roots in Colborne, inspiring her in softball and as it turns out nursing as well.
Her love of softball began at an early age, not surprising when you consider she essentially grew up with ball diamonds in her backyard and she spent many hours there with her dad.
“I loved it when the diamonds were raked and chalked and we got to go down and throw the ball around and hit ground balls whenever we pleased,” Gibson says.
Her first organized softball experience was with the Colborne Coyotes house league team that competed within Cobourg Legion Minor Softball Organization league play.
It was her dad who created the Coyotes program “with hopes of providing me with more softball experience and allowing other kids my age to get involved with the community,” she says. “We joke in our family that ‘once a Coyote, always a Coyote’ and this has lasted ever since with other kids who grew up playing Coyote softball.”
The late Alex ‘Curly’ Rutherford, who passed away in December 2020, was another big supporter of softball in Colborne, Gibson pointed out. “The opportunities he put in place for kids within the community through softball and to have the ability to play was tremendous,” she says.00
Shannon Gibson wasn’t the only young athlete in her family. She has three younger sisters – Roisin, Sinead and Eilis – who all took advantage of the variety of sports Northumberland County has to offer.
They all played softball, of course, and tried their hand at pitching.
“Roisin had the liveliest arm, but Roisin said she couldn’t see herself throwing 100 balls a day in the backyard like I did,” Gibson quips. “We still joke to this day, how she would have given me a run for my money.”
All four Gibson girls played hockey for the West Northumberland Wild, with Eilis going on to play junior women’s hockey for the Durham West Lightning. It wasn’t uncommon for at least two of the siblings to play on the same team.
Sinead and Eilis also joined the Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club in kayaking and enjoyed success. Sinead competed at the national championships one year in Quebec.
“I think there are lots of sports to do in Northumberland, but it takes a lot of parents who want to give their time and coach and drive their kids to the sports they want to play,” Shannon Gibson says. “It takes a big commitment from the parents to get involved, so the kids have something to do. In my situation, I have an amazing family who I am extremely grateful for. Without my mother, father, sisters and grandparents, my success would not be possible.”
Gibson, who became a leader and captain of a number of teams she competed with, is appreciative of the local coaches she had early on.
“I remember being a quiet leader and Ron Spicer noticed that in me and wanted me to captain his teams when I played hockey for the West Northumberland Wild,” she says. “I really liked how Mr. Spicer believed in me and allowed me to lead on the ice. We had some great success together and he instilled a great drive to push me to be at my best.”
Softball coaches were also instrumental in her development.
“Pat Sweet and Travis Hill, both Cobourg Angels coaches, supported me for many years when I was playing ball,” Gibson remarked. “They both had a way of making it fun for not only me, but my teammates as well. Along with the many coaches I had growing up, my dad was a coach that I could never get away from…always pushing me to be my best, but forever being my biggest fan through both wins and losses. I attribute a lot of my development and success on the mound to him.”
Gibson also praised the support she received from Cobourg Foodland owner John Foley. He has supported local sports as a coach and sponsor, but Gibson noted his position as a business owner employing athletes shouldn’t be ignored.
“Mr. Foley really supported me in allowing me to work my grocery shifts around my busy softball schedule,” Gibson, who went on to play with teams in Whitby and Brampton, said. “He always ensured that I had employment when I came home for Christmas or for the summer. Mr. Foley really supports athletes that work at Foodland Cobourg.”
The fact that Gibson sought an NCAA scholarship made sense. She learned growing up the value of hard work to excel in sports and in school. You have to “put the work in” for both, she says. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”
You also need lifestyle balance, she suggests. Too much work is not fun, but too much fun and the work is not getting done.
She also got used to long hot days playing ball, often a doubleheader, under the Georgia sun before grabbing a bite to eat and then hitting the books to study.
“I’ve really learned to balance my time,” Gibson says of her time at GSW.
Hard work has prepared Gibson for a future career in nursing and it’s something she’s passionate about. Like softball, that comes from family.
Gibson noted that she has been influenced by generations of nurses in her family, including her grandmother Mary Gibson and also her aunt Kathy and cousin Carla.
Georgia Southwestern State University, she added, has a great nursing program led by former First Lady and GSW alumna Rosalynn Carter.
“All of this has influenced me to pursue nursing,” Gibson says.
“COVID-19 was a real eye-opener for both academics and athletics and as she works towards a career in the medical field.
“Fortunately this year the softball season was able to function almost as normally as possible. In following CDC guidelines, protecting the student-athletes during the competition was the top priority,” she says. “This past year we have faced a lot of adversity and that goes hand-in-hand with the medical field. Each day in the medical field, nurses and other healthcare professionals are consistently faced with adversity in which they must overcome.”
Her NCAA playing career is over, but Gibson is passing on her love of the game.
“I presently give back to the local children in Georgia, often providing pitching lessons a couple of times a week,” she says. “I will be assisting with softball camps in Georgia this summer and help with local softball development.”
Whether it was on those fields in Colborne way back when or now in Americus, Gibson certainly feels at home on any ball diamond.