Photos courtesy of Abbey Rose Erwin
BLACKSBURG – Behind home plate sits Virginia Techs biggest fan, cheering on the girls that are now more than just a softball team in his eyes.
Arthur Erwin has become the heart and soul of the Virginia Tech softball team. He is six years old and battles cerebral palsy; however, that does not get in his way. The positivity, energy and enthusiasm that he embodies and brings to each game has quickly made him a celebrity around Tech Softball Park.
“Arthur is like the team’s little brother, and he is our most loyal fan,” said Emma Lemley, sophomore pitcher for the Virginia Tech softball team. “He’s at every home game and most of our away games. Seeing him there makes me and my team so happy and lifts our spirits.”
“Our philosophy is that there is nothing he can’t do,” said Abbey Rowe Erwin, Arthur’s mother. “Sometimes you just have to make things happen, and it is really cool to see him embracing that too.”
Their journey with the softball team came out of the blue.
“We went to an open football practice last March and it was a beautiful day, so when we saw that the softball team was also playing that day, we decided to go over and see if they had accessible seating, because you never know where they will be,” Erwin said. “Turns out that those seats were right behind home plate.”
Little did the Erwin family know that when they made the impulsive decision to go to that softball game, their little boy would capture the hearts of the coaches, the team, the fans, and many others that he encounters.
“It was unexpected really. We were sitting there and before the game even started Coach Pete must have seen us from the dugout because he came up to us and got down next to Arthur to introduce himself, thank him for coming, and then he gave him a softball autographed by Keely Rochard,” Erwin said. “Then it was kind of love at first sight, and we have been going ever since.”
From that day on, Arthur can be found at each game, sitting in the best seats of the stadium and wearing a big smile. Throughout the game Arthur gets the fans excited and engaged by leading the crowd in the infamous cheer yelling, “Let’s Go,” followed by the rest of the crowd answering, “Hokies!”
Arthur is joined in leading the cheer by a fellow Hokie softball fan that he has become close with since going to softball games.
“That’s Chip. He sits at the end of the row above us and that’s how I know him,” Arthur said. “When they bat, I’m like ‘Chip, come! We have to cheer,’ and then we do the chant.”
The relationship between Arthur and the team has continued to grow deeper and deeper. The players now see Arthur as a little brother, and when asked what he calls them, that answer was immediately reciprocated.
“I call them sisters,” Arthur said. “I have 30 sisters!”
Arthur said that he loves everything about going to the games. He likes to get popcorn, cheer on the girls that he loves, and then greet them and give them high fives once the game is over.
“Arthur really means the world to us,” said Rachel Castine, sophomore utility player for the hokies. “He is the sweetest, most supportive person there is and having him in the stands cheering and encouraging us is a true privilege.”
The presence that Arthur brings each day is far more than ever expected.
“Arthur provides our student-athletes the ability to put things into perspective. There are many times that our softball schedule can be busy or challenging, but those things are fairly trivial in the larger scheme of things. That is such a great lesson for all of us, not just in softball but in life, too. We aren’t always going to have our best day but are we able to do our best to make the best of what we have that day like Arthur does?” said Mike Lewis, assistant coach for the softball team. “Having someone like Arthur so close to the program, who brings such an enthusiasm to life, really makes it easy to remember that some of the difficulties we think we have, really aren’t that difficult after all.”
The team can take away many different lessons from Arthur, but they have also taken it upon themselves to get a better understanding of Arthur and all that he has to offer!
“They have done a lot to learn about cerebral palsy and raise awareness for the disability which has been pretty amazing because we also try to spread awareness because we didn’t know anything about it until he was born,” Erwin said.
The team has gained a new outlook on life and a new appreciation for little things.
“Having Arthur around has 100% given us a new level of gratitude, not only for our abilities but also for those supporting us,” Castine said. “I can see as a team, we are playing more loose and with more passion than before because our outlook on things has become much more appreciative.”
While the softball team is taking away life lessons, the impacts being made goes both ways.
“I think that the softball team and going to their games has also helped with his confidence. I mean, he’s six and he goes out there in front of all those people and leads the cheers and he’s so confident and he feels so loved and supported,” Erwin said. “Seeing who he is and the positive impact that he has on people, I think is really pretty amazing.”
Being long time members of the hokie community, it was inevitable that the Erwin’s would make a difference in the area.
“It’s really special, you know, because we have always been hokies, so this place is very, very important to us,” Erwin said. “The love that we feel and that he feels is hard to even describe. I think Virginia Tech is a really unique place, and I mean the team and the fans, just the kindness they show him and us is awesome.”
Erwin used the example that Arthur was presented with a letter jacket and a custom-made bat that has his name on it and signatures of the whole team, from another fan at a game! While this was a grand gesture, she said there are many more instances where people have gone above and beyond for Arthur.
“They treat us like family, and we definitely consider them family,” Erwin said.
Attending softball games has become routine in the Erwin’s lives.
“Our friends and family have started making jokes with us asking if we have softball that day or weekend,” Erwin said with a laugh. “We have to tell them that we do, because it is something that is now part of our schedule. It’s a huge part of our lives.”
The expectations to return the impacts that the softball team has received from Arthur are extremely high.
“As a coaching staff, I think we hope that Arthur and other young fans can really be proud of the team and how we conduct ourselves and represent all of Virginia Tech. We know we aren’t going to win every game, but can we make sure that our supporters, like Arthur, are appreciative and proud of the quality of people we have within the program?” Lewis said. “We all know that Arthur has become a huge softball fan, but I believe his fandom for the sport was spurned from the strong, special connections he’s made with those within our program.”
When Arthur is not attending softball games, he lives an average six-year-old boys’ life. He goes to school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some days after school he will go to physical therapy or occupational therapy, and other days he will go home, and do fun activities or go on adventures. Arthur now has the chance to play ball just like the girls that he gets to watch each week.
“I am playing T-ball,” Arthur said. “I have practice every single Wednesday.”
Among the other opportunities that have been presented to Arthur, he is also getting to meet people with a lot of similarities to him.
“Another cool thing that has come from going to the softball games is that Arthur gets to meet folks with different disabilities, either because geographically we sit in the same places or they just come out of their way to meet him and share their stories,” Erwin said. “Some folks come up and are also in wheelchairs, so they start comparing wheelchairs and talk about what they like to do. Living in a small town, there isn’t a huge wheelchair community, so we appreciate that he gets to see a lot of other folks that are in the same place as him,” Erwin said.
Arthur will continue to be the No. 1 fan and support the girls that he sees as his sisters for the rest of their season. The Erwin’s will be traveling to Indiana for the ACC tournament!
“I think that as he gets bigger, this is all really helping to build the little human that he is becoming,” Erwin said.
Arthur has made an everlasting impact on Virginia Tech Softball!
“We love all our fans, but Arthur definitely holds a special place in all of our hearts,” Castine said.