Jennie Finch hosts Empowerment Award alumni roundtable

June 14th, 2023

In celebration of World Softball Day and five years of the Jennie Finch Empowerment Award, USA Softball Hall of Famer and Olympian Jennie Finch sat down alongside Rawlings Gold Glove Winner and professional softball player A.J. Andrews to talk with past recipients on how this recognition has impacted them, both on and off the softball diamond.

In 2019, Finch partnered with Arm & Hammer to create the Jennie Finch Empowerment Award to award four young female athletes every year as a “way of recognizing outstanding softball players from around the country who demonstrate the virtues of an athlete, scholar, and humanitarian on and off the field.” It primarily focuses on six pillars: commitment, leadership, dedication, integrity, humility and motivation.

Since 2019, Arm & Hammer has contributed more than $150,000 to MLB’s youth softball community and is continuing to support young women later this summer and beyond.

The winners are selected by an MLB-led blue-ribbon panel, headlined by Finch. In addition to receiving $10,000 scholarships, these athletes have been able to participate in annual MLB-led softball events, such as the Softball Breakthrough Series, Jennie Finch All-Star Classic, Elite Development Invitational and the RBI World Series. They also are recognized during pregame festivities at the World Series.

Cheyenne DeGross, a rising sophomore infielder for George Mason’s softball team, is following her dreams of being a weather news anchor by studying communications with a focus on journalism in college. A 2020 JFEA recipient, DeGross talked about how the scholarship has allowed her to be able to have new experiences in college like studying abroad in Milan.

“Because of the scholarship, I’m now able to do a study abroad program this summer because we didn’t have to worry about that amount of money in the fall [to cover tuition] and we could put it towards something else,” DeGross said. “It’s going to be my first time traveling by myself, but also out of the country to Europe. So I’m really excited about that.”

It’s rare for women to get the same recognition that men do, but this award works on changing that narrative. Andrews, who is also an MLB Network personality, talked about how this award is supporting the next generation of softball players.

“It just always feels really good to know that people are really looking out and really support and want to be able to amplify not just our talent on the field, but also the hard work we put behind [the field],” Andrews said.

Andrews left the young leaders with some words of advice.

“Don’t strive to make your presence known but your absence felt," she said. "Whether it’s STEM, whether it’s working with people with mental health, without you all, without your absence being felt or your presence being there, the job wouldn’t get done the way it's supposed to get done."

The proof of the JFEA is evident everywhere. Valarie Orona, a recipient of this award in its first year, talked about how she has been able to help other people as a leader in her world.

“In almost a year, I helped people that have mental health issues like depression [and] anxiety," Orona said. "I was always there for people. I am now with kids that have autism or are on the spectrum.”

Samantha Santana, a 2022 recipient who just finished her junior year of high school, hopes to go into the legal field to study criminal justice, as she hopes to one day be a part of the FBI. She talked about how the scholarship money has impacted not only her life, but others as well.

“Earning that scholarship really has helped my family not have to worry about tuition,” she said.

As the group of JFEA recipients continues to grow in the coming years, Finch summarized the lasting impact of this award and how she hopes it can bring amazing female athletes together.

“Sisterhood to me is everything. … Through softball and sports, I have gained so many sisters and that’s what I would love to create here," Finch said. "A sorority of Empowerment Award winners and you guys can continue to use each other, network off of one another, continue to encourage one another, and just be able to be there for one another as you journey through life.”

Anna Laible is a teenage reporter for Sports Illustrated Kids and hosts her own podcast called Speak Up Sports.