Freeport's Roenigk takes balding condition in stride, excels in softball
Though her head is a subject of intrigue for almost anyone who sees her on the softball field or elsewhere, Freeport senior Alexis Roenigk still neglects to think about her own noggin from time to time.
One such instance led to a concussion that cost her a couple of games early in the Yellowjackets' season.
Fortunately for Freeport, Roenigk is difficult to keep down — physically or mentally — for too long. The girl who has lived without hair on her head for more than a year because of an autoimmune disease understands resilience and self assurance, and she injected the Yellowjackets with both as they put together a 10-game win streak that propelled them into the postseason.
Freeport (10-5) earned the No. 12 seed in the Class AA playoffs and lost, 11-6, to No. 5 Waynesburg (13-8) Tuesday at Hempfield. Roenigk, a shortstop and leadoff hitter, doubled twice during a 2-for-4 day at the plate.
“I guess that's how opposing teams see me and how I'm recognized,” Roenigk said of her baldness, which is caused by alopecia, a disease in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, causing partial or possibly total hair loss on the body. “I've pretty much embraced that this is who I am, and that's how I deal with it.”
Freeport's first two opponents of the season, Section 3-AA rivals Burrell and Valley, likely noticed Roenigk's absence on the diamond; the senior started each of the past three years. What they likely didn't know was that a sumo wrestling suit was to blame for her missing the contests, both of which Freeport lost.
In late March, Roenigk attended an event in the gymnasium, and among the activities available were sumo suits that allowed students to slam into each other. Roenigk forgot to put on a helmet when her turn came, and after she collided with her opponent, she fell off the protective mat and hit her head on the gym floor.
Concussed for the first time in her life, Roenigk wondered whether she had jeopardized her entire season.
Fears of missing the season subsided after her headaches and dizzy spells disappeared in two weeks. But her time away from the field still bothered her because it burdened a Yellowjackets lineup already challenged by youth.
“It was pretty tough because we were still trying to work some kinks out with the whole team,” said coach Sam Ross, who added the team also played without freshman third baseman Kristie Radvan for two games early in the season. “With those two being out, we struggled a little bit there to get on our feet.”
In Roenigk's first game back, the Yellowjackets went down to the wire with defending WPIAL finalist and section rival Deer Lakes before losing 5-4.
The 10-game win streak followed. It ended when Freeport met Deer Lakes for a rematch and fell 10-6.
Roenigk is one of Freeport's two senior starters. The other is second baseman Alyssa Ravotti, also a four-year letterwinner. The Yellowjackets lean heavily on juniors Jess Kelley and Karlie Hill for big plays and leadership, and they've also thrived in large part because of strong performances from sophomores Alyssa Obringer and Kristen Karcher and freshmen Morgan McCarthy and Radvan. McCarthy is hitting a team-best .521 and has seven home runs, and Kelley is second in both categories (.482, five home runs).
What Roenigk offers, aside from a .395 batting average and a .697 slugging percentage, is a realist's sensibility and little in the way of shyness.
“Roenigk is nice, but she'll tell you how it is,” said Kelley, Freeport's top pitcher. “She's always positive, but she'll tell you what you're doing wrong, and that's half of what leadership is.”
Many Pittsburgh area residents recently became aware of alopecia because the Steelers' first-round draft pick, linebacker Ryan Shazier of Ohio State, has the disease. But Roenigk knew about it since she learned she had it at age 2.
Random bald spots appeared on her head for more than a decade. Then, in December of 2012, she lost more than 50 percent of her hair in about a week.
“At that point, I decided to just shave it all off and start from scratch,” she said. “It never ended up growing back.
“I get a lot of questions about it. A lot of people ask me if I have cancer. I just try to explain to them, ‘No, I don't. I'm not dying or sick. I'm a healthy person and happy. I'm ready to play.' ”
Ross said opposing players and coaches often ask about Roenigk. He discloses very little, though, and instead makes a simple suggestion: Just ask Roenigk.
“She's pretty strong person,” Ross said. “(Losing her hair) had to bother her. She had long, dark hair at one time. You take that away, and it takes a pretty strong person to say, ‘OK, that's the way it's going to be,' and to get on with it.”