Softball star Natasha Watley visits View Park Prep to offer inspiration, hope

Olympic gold medalist Natasha Watley talks to students about creating "a masterpiece"

Before leaving for Japan this weekend to resume her professional softball career, Olympic gold medalist Natasha Watley came to View Park Prep school Thursday morning to address the student body during an outdoor assembly under scorching heat and offer special words of encouragement to a group of female students whose petition drive to start the school's first softball team had finally succeeded.

"This is so exciting," said Watley, who was a four-time All-American at UCLA and won an Olympic gold medal playing for Team USA in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

She gave the students a signed yellow softball to use for their first game next spring. More than 50 students have signed up to play. The charter school, which opened in 2005 and is located down the street from sports power Crenshaw High, is in the process of hiring its first coach.

Watley, 33, grew up in Irvine and attended Woodbridge High. She is considered one of the most decorated players in her sport. With aspiring players sitting in a classroom, Watley told them she discovered the sport on a fluke.

"I'm an only child and I wanted to make friends," she said.

Watley received applause in explaining how she had earned respect based on her performance and character.

"It's not based on me being African American," she said. "It's based on me being a damn good softball player and being a damn good human being and just treating my teammates great. Being a minority means I get to represent a whole group of people that aren't very popular in our sport, but in the same breath, I got to advance because of my skill and my character and who I was."

View Park's student body is 95% African American.

Remembering her high school days, Watley said, "I didn't have too many young women that looked like me. My role models were my parents. They ingrained in me [that] I was to get by with my character."

Twitter: @LATSondheimer