Brantley, Miss. State softball player Alex Wilcox loses cancer battle
Former ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott once said, “You beat cancer by how you lived.”
That’s exactly how Mississippi State University freshman softball player Alex Wilcox, who dominated in three sports at Brantley High School, will be remembered: How she lived her life.
Wilcox lost a two-and-a-half-year battle with ovarian cancer Monday, but not before leaving a lasting impression in Crenshaw County and across the country. According to her family and friends, the 18-year-old maintained a fighting attitude from the moment she was diagnosed in December 2015.
“She didn’t want pity and she wanted to help other people suffering from the disease,” Brantley’s head softball coach Cindy Hawthorne, who coached Wilcox, said. “I remember her telling me: ‘This season isn’t about me, it’s about you guys.’ Of course, it was absolutely about her, but she didn’t want to take any of the credit. She persevered through the sickness and we wanted to fight for her.”
Wilcox signed a softball scholarship with Mississippi State last year. National media outlets such as “USA Today” and ESPN, which continues to honor Scott after his fight against cancer ended in 2015, have reported on her death and the legacy she leaves behind.
“She cared about this Mississippi State family and she cared about everyone in her world,” MSU Athletics Director John Cohen said in a statement earlier this week.
While Wilcox’s fight with cancer inspired millions across the country, the people in Brantley that have known her for years may have felt her impact the most. Many, including Hawthorne, knew Wilcox almost her entire life.
“I remember Alex coming on as a manager for me when she was in the fifth grade,” Hawthorne said. “She quickly started playing varsity softball in the seventh grade. Alex was just one of those kids that was easy to love.”
This past season, the Brantley Lady Bulldogs won the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A softball championship with Wilcox as the team’s main motivation.
“We wore a decal on our helmets honoring Alex all year and broke every huddle by saying the same thing, ‘Win the day, do it for eight,’” Hawthorne said. “Alex wore No. 8 when she played at Brantley. That’s how we reminded ourselves of Alex’s fight everyday.”
Wilcox wasted no time trying to inspire others after she was diagnosed. Hawthorne said Wilcox never seemed to get discouraged about the cancer.
Before trading in her green and gold uniform at Brantley for a Mississippi State maroon and white one, Wilcox rewrote the record books at Brantley. She ranked amongst the Top 50 recruits of the Class of 2017 by FloSoftball; led Brantley to three AHSAA state titles, while earning tournament MVP honors in both 2014 and 2016, and was named Class 1A Pitcher of the Year as a freshman with a record of 28-7, including 370 strikeouts and a .416 batting average with 10 home runs and 41 RBI.
Wilcox bested her career numbers as a sophomore with a .529 average with 28 RBI and five home runs to earn All-State honors. As a junior, she set career highs with 67 RBI and 13 home runs, while holding a .483 average at the plate to earn AHSAA Class 1A Player of the Year, Hitter of the Year and All-State honors. She also helped the Bulldogs win two state championships on the hard court and earned multiple letters with the volleyball team.
As an outfielder, Wilcox saw limited playing time in Starkville, Miss. She recorded three hits in 15 plate appearances with the Bulldogs to finish the season with a .200 batting average. However, her courage and outlook on life made an impact on both the players and fans at Mississippi State as well as across the Southeastern Conference.
Earlier this year, the Mississippi State softball team created its “No One Fights Alone” campaign to rally around Wilcox and the message took on a life of its own as every member of the SEC’s softball program showed their support for Wilcox. On June 13, the league office honored the collective group of SEC softball teams as the women’s recipient of the 11th annual SEC Sportsmanship Award.
“Empathy for others, even when they are your opponent in competition, is the definition of sportsmanship, and I am proud of this year’s recipients because they set a standard that is true to the values of the Southeastern Conference,” Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement.
The campaign began in Starkville with the Bulldogs donning teal uniforms and holding a moment of silence during midweek contests to bring awareness to ovarian cancer.
“We have been humbled by the outpouring of support from our SEC softball community,” Mississippi State head softball coach Vann Stuedeman said. “Every school touched our hearts as they reached out in support of Alex, our MSU softball family and our ‘No One Fights Alone Campaign.’ The strength that we have drawn from your prayers and encouragement is the definition of the SEC – It Just Means More. We are grateful.”
Support such as this comforted Wilcox’s family, teammates and friends throughout the young sluggers fight. Hawthorne is close with Wilcox’s parents, Shaun and LeAnn. She said the family has found some comfort in the response to their daughter’s untimely death.
“As hard as it was for her parents to go through, they were touched by the overwhelming show of support,” she concluded. “Shaun and LeAnn know what kind of an amazing girl they raised. Everyone knew what kind of person she was and everyone followed her lead.”
Funeral services for Wilcox will be held at 2 p.m. today in the Bulldogs’ gymnasium.
No. 8 will be laid to rest in Dozier Cemetery.
Joe Cagle contributed to this story.