ERIE – Kat Sackett met a girl named Josette in her eighth-grade English class.
The two quickly became close and that friendship with Josette, who is autistic, left an indelible mark on Sackett — influencing her approach to just about everything since. It made her more sympathetic, more selfless, and also more driven to use her gifts to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.
Now a senior at Erie, Sackett is a leader in the community and an active participant in Unified Sports, a program that joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to promote friendship and understanding through teamwork and competition. She is also a mentor for special needs students in the classroom.
That may seem like a lot for one person to take on. For Sackett, however, lending a helping hand just feels like something she needs to do.
“Josette and I became really good friends so when I saw this opportunity at Erie High, I knew I needed to be a part of that,” Sackett said. “Now I do Unified sports and teach kids how to play basketball, and I’m also a mentor in the school where I go to classes with certain individuals and help them with math or whatever they need help with. I love it.”
Side note: Sackett is also one of the very best softball players in all of Colorado.
Through nine games with the Erie Tigers, who are ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by the CHSAANow.com poll after getting off to a 9-0 start, Sackett is slashing .778/.794/2.000 with a 2.794 OPS, 26 RBIs and state-leading nine home runs (she hit her ninth in a 16-10 slugfest against Mead on Tuesday). The power-hitting catcher and all-state senior has struck out just once in 34 plate appearances.
Sackett has plenty of backup too.
Protecting Sackett in the Tigers’ potent and deep lineup is senior third baseman Madysun Vaughan, who is slashing .581/.629/1.483 with 22 RBIs and trails Sackett with just eight homers (incredibly, Vaughan homered in each of the Tigers’ first eight games). As a team, the Tigers are batting .490.
“They play together and they have each others’ backs, and that’s kind of our motto this season,” first-year head coach Vanessa Smith said. “This team feeds off of each other and they believe in each other. So when one of them starts hitting, watch out.”
Following last season’s run to the quarterfinals, the Tigers graduated starting pitcher Maddie Leach (2.63 ERA) but Megan Loveland has been filling in nicely. Loveland, a senior, has a 2.40 ERA with 28 strikeouts and just six walks in 35 innings in the circle.
With all the firepower they have returning from last season’s team that reached the 4A quarterfinals, the Tigers have their sights set on winning their program’s all-time best 12th state title and first since 2010.
“We want to win state this year,” Sackett said. “When we go into games with the attitude that we’re taking it one game at a time and when we all play together, it turns out in our favor. I think every person in our lineup is in their right spot and Megan has come in and done a great job pitching so we’re just going to keep playing for each other and see where that takes us.”
Sackett, Vaughan and Loveland are three of nine Erie seniors hoping their final prep seasons end in a championship.
After she graduates, the Erie star who seemingly finds a way to add extraordinary purpose to the things she does will continue her softball career at Marshall University. She was instantly attracted to the Thundering Herd, which lost most of its football team, staff and many prominent community members in a devastating plane crash in 1971 but bonded around the tragedy to form a resilient and supportive athletic culture that remains today.
“Almost their entire football team died in that plane crash and instead of not having a football team, the whole school came together and decided to keep the football team,” Sackett said. “They created this special community that’s difficult to describe, really, but it’s really cool. When I went to their school, they just had this really special atmosphere and I decided that’s where I needed to be.”
Whether it means owning the batter’s box, controlling the game from behind the plate, being a community leader at Erie High, or enriching the lives of her friends and teammates, whatever Sackett decides she’s going to do, she pretty much knocks it out of the park.