Sulphur retiring jersey of former pitcher Koonce, who's battling ALS

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

Amber Koonce rose to the challenge in

2001 as a sophomore pitcher for the Sulphur High softball team, stepping

into the pitcher’s

circle and leading the Tors to a state championship.

In recent years, Koonce has faced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terminal neuromuscular disease, displaying the same toughness

that made her a champion on the softball diamond.

Koonce will have her No. 10 jersey

retired tonight before the Sulphur football game against Comeaux. A host

of former Lady

Tors are returning home to take part in the ceremony. Koonce will

be joined by husband Eddie Myers and 4-year-old son Owen.

Sulphur softball coach Julie Mancuso said Koonce always had the proper attitude to succeed on and off the field.

“She was an easy kid to coach; she had

leadership qualities, as well as being a good athlete,” Mancuso said.

“She had the

respect of others, and at this point in her life she still does.

She still displays those same qualities as far as fighting

and being a true competitor. She has been an inspiration to so

many and has really touched a lot of people.”

As a player, Koonce took over in the circle after the Tors lost their starting pitcher to injury. Sulphur beat Comeaux 2-1

in the championship game, which was held in Sulphur for the first time that year.

“We had split with Comeaux that season. It was kind of ironic that we played them,” Mancuso said.

“We weren’t even supposed to be there

the way we started the season. It was one of those Cinderella seasons.

It was unbelievable

the way we were able to win it in Sulphur. The biggest challenge

was getting the tournament there, I would have never dreamed

that we would be able to win it, too. It was a very special

season. Before the tournament one of our pitchers broke a finger

and couldn’t pitch, so we moved her to third base and Amber was

our only pitcher. She handled it and was a true leader for

us.

“She was one that was very mentally tough and strong in her faith. I really think that those qualities have inspired a lot

of people. She was a friend of many. People liked her and still do. She helped others, led by example as far as hard work

and determination and fight. If I had to pick an example of a player I would want my kids to pattern themselves after, it

would be her.”

After graduating in 2003, Koonce remained involved in the program.

“She would come back and talk to the current players at the time, try to give them a pep talk,” Mancuso said. “We remained

close after the diagnosis. I visit her from time to time.”

Koonce received the ALS diagnosis in 2008, when she was 23. Mancuso said the Sulphur softball family and the community have

rallied around her.

“The response has been tremendous; it shows the community support here,” she said.

“Sulphur is a great place to be, as far

as people rallying around each other — when things are good like when

you are winning

and even when things are tough like going through this. I talked

with several former players from every class to help me do

this, and the response has been overwhelming. They will be on the

field with me. They made some shirts with No. 10 on the

back. We have players coming back from as far as 1969-70. People

have called and said they played in 1980 and asked if they

can be a part of the ceremony. It is an example of the community

in Sulphur and the pride from being a Lady Tor and the family

connection there. We have a player from the 1994 championship team

that is coming in from Colorado. It is going to be a neat

thing, and I am glad Amber and her family is going to be able to

experience this with us.”

The ceremony will be at 6:50 p.m., 10 minutes before kickoff.

“We will recognize her and there is a classmate of hers, Lauren Bowman, who happens to be a representative of Team Gleason

(an organization that works to raise awareness of ALS founded by former New Orleans Saints defensive back Steve Gleason),”

Mancuso said.

“She will be speaking on behalf of Team Gleason and helped get Amber in touch with Gleason.”

Mancuso said she has learned a lot from her relationship with Koonce.

“It puts things in perspective,” she said.

“Of course we teach the kids about the

sport we coach, but even more so about life thereafter and how there is a

carryover

from the skills that you have to have as an athlete. She has done

that. She displays a strong sense of faith, and you feel

that when you are around her. She accomplished her life goals. She

was married and had a son and earned a degree — all after

she was diagnosed. That says something about her.”