Before Cassie Pantelas was swinging her club for the Jackson High School golf team and eventually Seton Hall University, she was swinging bats while playing America’s greatest pastime.
“I actually played baseball until I was 13,” Pantelas said.
Being the youngest of five, Panetelas naturally wanted to be like her older siblings, especially her brothers Ari and Alex, who were just starting to get into baseball.
“Ari and Alex are both a year older than me so they were starting t-ball and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m playing t-ball if they’re playing t-ball,’” Pantelas said. “I ended up being a little bit better at it than them.”
Her brother Alex chimed in on their time together playing through t-ball and beyond on the same team.
“I was always on the line of being kind of proud that we were playing together. We were happy and we were children so that was great,” Alex said. “At the same time it was also something where we kept each other competitive, and that was really great because we were both really good at it.”
Pantelas thrived in baseball, and for that reason, all of the negative comments and displeased coaches simply could not change her skill and abilities.
“I remember all the coaches wanted to throw her out of the league for being a girl, but the talent is what made her stay in the league,” Alex said.
Her skill in the sport kept her on teams and eventually allowed her to play travel baseball for two years, but there came a point where teams would no longer allow her to play.
“They wouldn’t let me play anymore because I was a girl,” Pantelas said.
As frustrating as it was for Pantelas, her father was there for her every step of the way.
“My dad coached me all throughout those years,” Pantelas said.” So he and I kinda have a bond, we’d go golf together all the time whenever I’m home.”
Her father, Gust, saw the discrimination first hand as he served as her baseball coach for some of Pantelas and her siblings’ baseball career.
“There were times where she would make an all-star team and some of the other coaches would say things like, ‘We don’t want her on the team because she’s taking a spot that a boy could have,’” Gust recalled.
At 13 years old, Pantelas’ baseball career was at its end. Alex reflecte on her professional, mature reaction in her final days of playing on the diamond
“I know there were a couple nights where we had sore talks with our parents, or times where maybe she even showed a little emotion,” Alex said. “But for the most part she kept playing until they made her stop.”
Pantelas, seeking some direction, decided to accompany her mother on a golf lesson with a professional trainer, where she took a couple swings with a golf club.
“I was just out with my mom. We live across from a golf course and I was just hitting balls out there. The pro stopped watching her (Pantelas’ mom) and started watching me instead,” Pantelas said.
The professional noticed something special in Pantelas, and despite having little to no prior instruction or experience, suggested she take up golf.
“I was out there just hitting golf balls and my mom was actually getting a lesson,” she said. “The pro was like, ‘Hey you should probably get her to start playing golf.’”
The timing could not have been any more perfect, as this encounter took place the summer before Pantelas entered high school, and right in the midst of her baseball dilemma.
“That was probably one of the major turning points in my life where I really had to make a decision about what I was going to do,” Pantelas recalled. “In retrospect, you don’t really think about how much that’s going to affect you, but choosing golf obviously has put me into the position I am today.”
Pantelas trekked confidently into the world of golf during her high school career, and eventually was given the opportunity to play collegiately when she was offered the chance to play Seton Hall University.
In the process though, she would be leaving home and following her siblings in the way of forging their own path, but naturally the distance has been challenging.
“It was pretty hard, but I think just who I am as a person- we’re all really independent. We love each other and we would do anything for each other,” Pantelas said.
She feels that her transition to Seton Hall from her Ohio home has helped her flourish and grow as a person.
“I see myself making decisions I know my parents would be proud of and I know that my siblings would be proud of,” Pantelas said. “So even though I don’t have them in my life directly, I try to do things that are true to my roots and who I am as a person. So think I’ve grown just by things I do, by priorities I put in place.”
Pantelas has been strongly influenced by her outgoing, siblings who have all taken their own unique, unconventional paths.
“I have two brothers (Ari and Alex) in the military, and my brother (Zack) is an orthopedic surgeon, and then my sister (Clair) works for a company in California,” Pantelas said. “I’m really lucky surrounding myself at home with some really good people.”
For Pantelas to make a big swing in her life’s direction, it was a never a question that her family would support her and know she would be successful in anything she put her mind to.
“She’s the center of our family because she is the baby of the family,” Alex said. “It’s unsurprising that she’s done so well at golf because knowing my whole life and our whole life as a family, we knew she was going to do great things.”
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.