The Santa Rosa WSC Hackers, a traveling softball team for girls 16 and under, just won the National Softball Association’s Pacific Coast World Series — but the impact the team is making off the softball diamond is more important than any trophy.
The Hackers play for something more than championships — they play to spread awareness of Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that can lead to cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning challenges.
Williams Syndrome is a genetic disorder similar to autism but with different symptoms. The WSC team, which stands for “Williams Syndrome Crew,” tries to spread awareness and acceptance of autism as well.
How did a group of teenage girls come to dedicate their softball team to a disease that affects approximately 1 in 10,000 people worldwide?
It starts with Kyle “Chops” Sieker.
Sieker doesn’t have a daughter on the team, but his 5-year-old daughter, Laila, may be the most important member of the WSC family.
Laila suffers from Williams Syndrome. The Siekers are close friends with Brandin Shanoff — the manager of the Hackers — and his daughter Sierra, a Montgomery High School senior who is also a player for the WSC Hackers.
Shanoff and Sieker told the team they could come up with a name for the team, and they came back with “The Williams Syndrome Crew.”
Sierra Shanoff told Sieker, “We want to play for Laila.”
“I’m not smart enough to come up with the word to describe how I felt when they told me that,” said Sieker, who can’t help but get emotional when talking about the team. “I am so thankful, I feel blessed. It’s just priceless.”
The Hackers’ head coach, Shanoff, said his reaction to the girls’ suggestion was, “Damn, from the minute she said that, that’s really all she had to say. We all started buzzing off the idea and just jumped in together.”
Sieker said since day one the outpouring of support has been “just crazy.”
He said that at every game a parent or someone from the other team stops and asks something about Williams Syndrome.
The team has created an informational pamphlet about Laila Sieker and Williams Syndrome to hand out to people interested in the meaning behind their name.
The team’s jerseys have the Williams Syndrome hand sign on the front, along with puzzle pieces on the numbers to represent autism.
Sieker says random people at games constantly stop him to tell him a story about someone they know suffering from a condition similar to Williams Syndrome or autism.
“So many people are so thankful the girls are doing this,” Sieker said. “It just shows they understand life isn’t so easy for everyone, and they want to do something about it.”
Shanoff talked with the girls about the possibility of Laila never being able to play softball because of her condition.
“Tears were in the air and that’s all I really had to say,” he said. “The team has played with really no pressure since, because they know they are playing for something bigger than themselves. They know they are playing for Laila and everyone else affected by these conditions.”