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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
Illinois Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Mary Joan “MJ” Patten’s love of softball began when she was five years old, playing T-ball for the Rockford, Illinois, Park District. Patten, now of Caledonia, Wisconsin, continued playing softball throughout middle school, high school, and college. On July 18, Patten will don another softball uniform – as the only National Guard member competing in the 2023 All-Army Women’s Softball training camp and the Armed Forces Women’s Softball Championship.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to be part of the team and compete,” Patten, who plays outfielder, said. “It’s a big deal for me to be the only National Guard member of the team, and to add Illinois in front of that makes it even more special.”
Patten credits her mother, Betty, for her love of and devotion to softball.
“She was my absolute biggest fan. Sadly, she passed away in 2021,” Patten said. “She was so proud of both my softball and military career, and I have no doubt she would be just as proud and thrilled for me to have the opportunity to compete in the All-Army Women’s Softball training camp and the potential to compete in the All-Armed Forces championship.”
The All-Army Women’s Softball team will report to Fort Sill, in Lawton, Oklahoma, July 18 to begin training and playing together before heading to the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to participate in the U.S. Armed Forces Sports Softball Championship, Aug. 4-10.
Patten, who graduated from Christian Life High School in Rockford in 2010, played in a fast pitch softball summer league in middle school and high school through the Harlem Community Center in Machesney Park and in college played in a slow pitch softball summer league at Forest Hills Diamond in Loves Park.
Patten attended Rock Valley College in Rockford for two years, studying exercise science, and playing fast pitch softball from Fall 2011 through Spring 2013. She then transferred to University of Wisconsin-Platteville, graduating in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in biology.
Patten, a personal trainer by day at ULINE, a Wisconsin-based corporation which sells wholesale industrial supplies, was introduced to competitive slow pitch softball leagues in 2016 through the United States Specialty Sports Association.
“I played for a travel team, Adrenaline, based in Illinois from 2016-2017. We played mostly in tournaments and then competed in the USSSA World tournament in Florida at the end of the season.”
Patten plays for an Indiana-based team, Bellys/Red Athlete. The team is classed as a Conference-B, or second-tier, team, and travels to participate in slow pitch softball tournaments.
Patten, a traditional National Guard member, became interested in being a personal trainer while at Planet Fitness and has carried the passion for exercising with her to ULINE.
“As a personal trainer, I can share my passion with other people and hopefully help develop the passion for them to enjoy exercising as much as I do,” she said.
It wasn’t until a 2020 deployment that Patten first learned of the All-Army Women’s Softball team. It took another three years for Patten to submit a packet to be considered for the team.
“I first heard about the team in 2020 when I was deployed,” she said. “I got back from deployment in 2021 and decided to stay home. A team wasn’t fielded in 2022, so I decided 2023 was going to be my year to apply.”
To apply for the team, Patten had to submit a packet through the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation website, which included a letter of support from her unit commander, a passing score in the Army Combat Fitness Test, meet the Army’s height and weight standards, a sports resume, and had to request a tour of duty with the team. Patten was notified in early June of her selection.
“The team is a selection of women Soldiers across the three components, active duty, reserves, and National Guard,” Patten said.
Patten, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist, enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in 2010 and is a platoon sergeant in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 766th Brigade Engineer Battalion, based in Decatur.