It was supposed to be a surprise 50th birthday gift, but the creation of the Ginger Craig Softball Scholarship at Northwestern State instead is a tribute to precious parents and a gesture of thanks for a life-changing opportunity.
A career Red River Parish educator since ending one of the most remarkable careers in Lady Demon softball history in 1988, N-Club Hall of Fame member Ginger Craig is following through on the plans of her mother and best friend.
The late Mrs. Helen Craig, and NSU graduate Kelley Taylor Lee got the idea a couple of years ago to honor Ginger by creating a scholarship in her name at her alma mater. Unfortunately, Mrs. Craig passed away unexpectedly last year, leading to Ginger learning of the plan. Her father, Joe, readily agreed that his late wife’s plans should go forward.
“It can’t be a surprise any more, like it was supposed to be, but it is very special,” said Ginger Craig, once a slugging outfielder whose No. 3 softball jersey was retired not long after her career ended. “Not only is it an honor but it’s a privilege to me to be able to give back to the school that gave me so much – – great opportunities to play ball, have fun, meet people who changed my life for the better and continue to do so today.
“This will hopefully inspire others to do the same thing. Maybe it’s a birthday, an anniversary or just the right time for somebody to create their own endowment at NSU. We’re enjoying getting this established and it’s something we’ll be proud of always, and it will help student-athletes here forever.”
The announcement of the creation of the scholarship came Friday on her 50th birthday.
The endowment is the latest in a series created since the beginning of the “Perpetually Purple” program operated by the Demons Unlimited Foundation, the non-profit 501-c-3 support organization for Northwestern State Athletics. A fundamental goal of the initial push is to reach the $5 million milestone, allowing the endowment to completely underwrite book scholarships for all NSU student-athletes, an expense of nearly $200,000 currently paid by annual gifts to the DUF. Annual gift revenues will then be redirected to more significantly enhance facilities, bolster recruiting budgets, retain or hire outstanding coaches, and offset ever-increasing scholarship costs.
Since being formally announced last May, the Perpetually Purple program has averaged a commitment each month thereafter, said assistant athletics director Haley Blount.
Greg Burke, director of athletics at NSU, said while each gift is profoundly appreciated, contributions by former competitors like Craig, her family and friends are particularly rewarding.
“It is especially meaningful to have a former student-athlete ‘pay forward’ the opportunity they received at NSU. Ginger has stayed very involved with her alma mater and understands the value of endowed scholarships from a competitive angle, as well as for providing educational and life-lesson opportunities for young people,” he said.
“She is appreciated for establishing this scholarship which will ensure her perpetual connection and impact on the athletic program that she loves so much.”
Blount noted that Craig wore her vintage NSU softball team jacket when she came to present the gift to establish the scholarship.
Craig serves on the steering committee for the N-Club, the organization of former athletic letterwinners at NSU. She is in her 26th year of teaching and coaching in Red River Parish, the second teaching adapted physical education as part of the parish special education program.
She coaches the golf team at Red River High School, also helping with the softball team, and coaching the fourth and fifth grade girls basketball team at Red River Elementary. Craig is also in her 15th year as the volunteer director of the Red River Biddy Ball Association in her 25th year of involvement. That organization serves roughly 250-300 kids with basketball during the winter and T-ball and “coach pitch” leagues in the spring.
I’ve seen a lot of kids make their first hit or score that first basket, make that first surprising catch. You see their faces, and they’re so excited and amazed,” she said. “It’s great when we can bring some of them to NSU games.”
Watching her alma mater’s teams compete helped solidify the decision to establish the scholarship, which she plans to supplement annually.
“I know what it takes. Kids don’t go to college with everything they need already. Resources are limited, and gifts like this give our coaches more to work with to make our programs stronger and make things better for those young people,” said the native of Converse in Sabine Parish.
Craig set 10 Lady Demon career hitting records, one which remains three decades later with 18 triples. She holds single-season school records for batting average (.428, 1987) and slugging percentage (.783, 1988). Craig was the 1987 Gulf Star Conference Most Valuable Player and the first Louisiana Athletic Directors’ Association Player of the Year.
She was a Lady Demon basketball player for a couple of years (1984-86) while starring in softball. Whether online at NSUDemons.com or making the short drive from Coushatta, she keeps close watch on all NSU sports, and especially the softball team led by veteran coach Donald Pickett.
“I love watching them. Coach Pickett has it on the right path. Three championships in a row, that’s incredible. I have season tickets but can’t get away often enough, so I try hard to find somebody who will use the tickets and get to see them play,” she said. “It’s a great game and the young women playing it are great representatives of NSU, and great examples for the kids I work with.”