Pregnancy Just a Pause for Campos : After Delivering Baby, She's Back on Field for Buena, Chasing Dream of a College Scholarship

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mary Campos is not your typical high school student athlete--not anymore.

A year ago at Buena High, she was among the finest softball players in the region and a prime candidate for a Division I scholarship. She was well on her way to becoming the family's first college student. She was the family hope for higher education.

Midway through the summer before her senior year, however, Campos learned she was pregnant. She considered an abortion, questioned why God would "do this" to her and grew deeply depressed.

"I felt like I let everybody down," Campos said. "I was so scared. I couldn't even grasp my own feelings. I didn't know what to feel. I didn't know how to react."

One month after her 18th birthday, Campos gave birth to Alexis Jocelyn, a 6-pound 13-ounce girl.

And seven weeks later, Campos was back in uniform for the Bulldogs.

"My proudest part in all this is that she had the guts to come back and try this," Buena Coach Sharon Coggins said.

Pregnancy among high school students--even athletes--is hardly unique. But few who become pregnant return to school immediately after delivery. Campos not only returned to campus, she returned to the diamond to resume her quest for a college scholarship.

Although her route has recently grown more circuitous, she is determined to avoid total derailment.

She'll probably play at a junior college next year--perhaps Ventura or Moorpark--where she will face a difficult sales job on Division I recruiters. She must impress them not only as a top player, but convince them that she can handle motherhood as well as her college course load. Can she handle day games and midnight feedings?

"I'm sure that there must be somebody out there willing to give her a chance," Coggins said.

For Campos, who gave birth Feb. 6, the road back begins on the field. She is about eight pounds heavier than she was as a junior and at least a step slower. What remains intact, however, is her desire to compete.

"On the field, she is a fierce competitor," Coggins said. "She'd take anybody out if they were in the way. If she had to sacrifice her body, she'd sacrifice her body.

"What we missed with her (in the preseason) is that she set the tone at practice," Coggins said. "She out-hustled everybody else and we needed that intensity back. That's here (now)."

Although Campos' mere presence is motivating teammates, Campos hasn't yet regained her starting role and leadoff spot for Buena (16-4). Last season, as a premier utility player, she started in all of the Bulldogs' games and played every position but pitcher and catcher. She batted .417 and led the team with 30 hits. But as a slap hitter who hits from the left side and relies on speed, Campos needs to regain that lost step.

"Her wheels aren't quite where they were," Coggins said. "(But) I see the potential for her to earn (back her starting position). I'm hoping she'll come back to where she was. We need it."

As though Campos doesn't have enough to deal with now that she is a mother and a student, she is spending extra time on weekends trying to improve her speed.

"To go out there and (perform) the way I used to, it's hard," she said. "I know it's gonna take time to get my timing down."

Meanwhile, Campos often feels like she is spinning her wheels. In her mind, she is running the way she once did. In reality, she has dropped from second-fastest player on the team to sixth.

"There's one girl who blows us away," Campos said. "And I'm thinking, that should be me out there . . . yeah, well, have a baby and then see what happens."

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Telling her mother that she was pregnant was one of the hardest things Campos ever had to do. She was expecting a shouting match. What she heard, however, was her mother's level tone saying, "I already knew. I could tell by the look on your face--the way you acted."

Her mother, Cynthia Navarro, knows that look. She got pregnant during her senior year at Buena High. And Navarro's first child, James Campos, became a father 15 months ago--three months before he turned 18. About 15 babies are born to Buena students each year, according to the school nurse.

Six of Mary Campos' friends have babies and are also Buena students.

So, in the world surrounding Campos, giving birth at this stage in her life is hardly a surprise. Even her mother couldn't complain.

"(My mother) said, 'I can't really tell you that this is wrong, that you messed up, because it happened to me,' " Campos said.

For Campos, raising Alexis has become a family affair. They live with Campos' mother, along with brother James, his girlfriend and their baby.

Campos' grandmother looks after Alexis while Campos is at school. When Navarro's workday as a plastics laminator at Northrop ends, her double shift begins. She picks up Alexis about 4 p.m., takes her home and starts dinner. About an hour later, Navarro picks up Campos from softball practice. It may seem like a crazy schedule, but Navarro wouldn't trade the travel time with her granddaughter for anything.

"That's my time with (Alexis)," Navarro said. "I only get to spend a little bit of time with her, so that's my time. It may be selfish, but I love it. I don't mind it at all."

Campos and Alex Alcantar, Mary's boyfriend and father of her child, plan to marry when they are more financially stable and can afford a place of their own. Meanwhile, Alcantar remains at home with his mother.

What Campos wants most for her child is something she herself never had--a father who wants to be part of her life. Navarro and Campos' father divorced when Campos was 4. She has seen him only three times since.

"I saw him about five years ago. He comes around every five years," said Campos, who isn't sure where her father lives. "People say he lives in Ventura.

"That's one thing I want for (Alexis)--to have both of us, because I know how much my mom struggled for us by herself."

Meanwhile, the birth of Alexis has definitely disrupted Campos' regular schedule as a carefree teen-ager.

"There's not one thing in my life that's the same," Campos said. "It used to be just (me and Alex). We'd hop in the car and just leave. But now we have to get the diaper bag, get the car seat and the stroller and make sure she's covered."

During the latter part of her pregnancy, Campos missed seven weeks of school but stayed current by taking home-study courses. Campos, who has a 2.5 grade-point average, plans to graduate with her classmates in June.

Softball is her motivation. She has been playing since the age of 5 and she doesn't intend to stop now. Her mother was a softball player, and Alexis, who usually sucks on a pacifier with a softball emblem attached to its base, seems destined to continue the athletic legacy.

The pregnancy kept Campos off the field. The baby, however, will not.

"I'm still gonna play," she said. "I'm still going after my goals. I'm still gonna go to school. I'm still gonna play softball and I'm gonna have the career I want."

Only now, she'll have another cheerleader in her support group.

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