By Rick Assad
Isabella Kam wasn’t the most talented player on the Burroughs High softball team, but may have been the most persistent.
“I was a benchwarmer from junior varsity to varsity and was never considered being good enough to be in the high school starting lineup, but good enough to be recruited by the Top 10 Division I schools in the country,” said Kam, a freshman on the Dartmouth College women’s softball squad and who plans to major in Mathematical Data Science with a minor in Computer Science. “Although it would have been easier to quit my high school softball team, I didn’t.”
Kam, selected Pacific League honorable mention as a sophomore and was a member of the Pacific League champions that same season, went on: “Was it easy? Of course not, especially with the false hype of teammates and petty drama that comes with high school,” she said. “Was it worth it? Absolutely! I’m going to my dream school and received offers from all of my backup schools! The best stress in the world was turning down offers from Power 10 schools from the Pacific 12, Southeast Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Ivy League schools.”
A pitcher and outfielder, Kam, winner of the Scholar-Athlete Achievement Award four years and team leader in highest grade-point average for three years, knew her strengths and limitations.
“It was my softball IQ, situational awareness and my speed,” she said of her plusses. “When I wasn’t pitching or sitting on the bench, I was in center field. I was also a slapper which played a tremendous role in getting me recruited.”
Kam, who was selected to the Team Philippines for the inaugural 2020 Triple Crown Sports International Cup which had to be canceled because of the pandemic, developed a philosophy that she embraced.
“You cannot control what you have no control over. Instead of wasting time worrying about what you cannot control, do your best and give 110 percent for the things you can control,” she offered. “Don’t let others define you because only you can define who you are. Believe in yourself, work hard to compete against yourself and don’t let distractions get in the way of your goals and dreams.”
Being accepted to Dartmouth and being on the team is an accomplishment in and of itself.
“I love Dartmouth! There is a different vibe here compared to high school. Everyone is humble and they know what their goals and ambitions are,” said Kam, who is a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts where she earned bronze and silver awards and is also a four-year member of the California Scholarship Federation. “It’s not about who or how to be the most popular, but rather, it’s how can we help each other reach our goals and become successful productive citizens.”
Academically Dartmouth isn’t easy, but Kam, who is a three-year member of the National Honor Society of High School Scholars and a two-year member of National Honor Society, is able to handle it.
“Dartmouth is academically challenging, but support from professors and peers are always available,” Kam noted. “It’s also comforting to have my softball coaches and teammates guide me, support me, and push me to my limits. I am very fortunate to have found a new family within the Dartmouth community.”
Kam and her high school softball team wasn’t immune from COVID-19.
“We were on this team high and looking forward to the upcoming season and boom, it was all taken away. It was very depressing,” she said. “Just prior to COVID-19, our head coach [Wes Tanagawa] quit right before the season started. We did not know what to expect and we were doing our best to prepare for tournaments and the upcoming season. We were fortunate to have the previous head coach [Doug Nicol] come back. The team had a renewed energy and we were practicing harder than ever before. We were ready to bring the Pacific League title back to Burroughs, but then the CIF Southern Section canceled our season due to the pandemic.”
Nicol was able to coach Kam for one year, which was trimmed because of the coronavirus.
“I have always been impressed with her work ethic and attitude,” he said of Kam, who was batting over .650, with an on-base percentage above .687 and a 2.50 earned-run average with her travel ball team before the season was interrupted. “I was lucky enough to teach her at John Muir Middle School and get to know her. I was excited to have the opportunity to coach her in her senior year and she was off to an incredible start. She was going to have an All-League season before it ended. But to her credit she was able to fight through that and be resilient and she is going to do great things at Dartmouth.”
Nicol went on: “She is really such an all-purpose player. She can run, hit, play defense and she is coachable,” he pointed out.
Being versatile definitely helped Kam while on the Burroughs softball team.
“I enjoyed both equally. Each position brought its own set of skills,” said Kam between being a pitcher and an outfielder. “But if I had to choose, it would be playing in the outfield. Playing travel ball, most balls are hit in the outfield, so I was constantly running to make that defensive play. To ensure that I was physically at my best, I would weight train and do kickboxing to enhance my speed, agility and reaction time.”
Kam added: “I am addicted to getting my body into the best shape possible because it’s an adrenaline rush,” she said. “When you can make that game-winning catch or drive in the game-winning run to help your team win is the best feeling.”
Maintaining a balance between sports and academics can be a daunting task for anyone.
“Yes, it was difficult being both an athlete and a student. Because I was in travel ball I didn’t have the luxury of free time,” Kam explained. “If I wasn’t playing softball across the country, I was practicing with my specialty coaches working on my pitching, hitting and conditioning. If I wasn’t with my specialty coaches, I was studying for my Advanced Placement classes. If I wasn’t studying or playing softball, I was volunteering my time at service organizations with my Girl Scout troop.”
Kam continued: “I sacrificed not going to a lot of high school events, however, my sacrifices got me into one of my dream schools,” she said. “Time was very precious to me and I thank my parents [Kevin and MariAnne] and sister [Olivia] for helping me with time management skills. These skills have carried over to college and have helped me manage my daily life with morning and afternoon softball practices, getting an Ivy league education and enjoying the company of my dorm mates and study groups.”
Kam was able to spend enough time in the sun.
“I have two highlights, first, being able to play with my younger sister on varsity. Not too many athletes can say that since my sister and I are close in age, 18 months apart,” she said. “We played on the same travel team together so we were in tune with each other and that carried over to high school softball.”
Kam’s day to shine came during her junior season against the longtime city rival Bulldogs.
“Second, 2019 beating Burbank High on their home turf 7-1 with me pitching the entire game and hitting a home run,” she explained. “I got myself in a little bind in one of the innings, walking two batters, but I was able to find my rhythm after that and it kept our team momentum going.”
Though it would have been nice to play more at the prep level, Kam has few regrets.
“Travel ball goes dark during the high school season. I wanted to continue with softball and keep my skill set fresh throughout the year, so I joined the high school softball team,” she said. “There were many times I was tempted to quit high school softball and join the school track team, especially since my skill set was not being utilized on the field. But I stuck it out and it taught me perseverance and patience, which made me a stronger person overall.”