On the softball field, Gayle may be a pitcher and a hitter by definition.
But as one of seven seniors on the Southwest DeKalb softball team, Gayle is much more than that. A starter since her freshman year, Gayle has emerged as one of the leaders for the Panthers on and off the field.
Off the field, Gayle is involved in a community service group that has collected and sent supplies to Haiti and New Orleans after natural disasters. She is also an honor student. On the field, Gayle has helped the Panthers to an 11-1 start. Through the first nine games, Gayle was 9-0 as a pitcher with an earned run average of 1.17. She also is one of the top hitters in the county with a .654 batting average and three home runs.
“She’s one of those kids who strives for the best in everything she does,” said Panthers coach Bernice Foreman. “You can give her instructions and you don’t have to tell her two times. She goes with it and leads the whole team. They respect her because she follows the rules too.”
Gayle said she attributes her values and dedication to her parents, Carmela and Tony Gayle.
“If you’re in a position where you have the necessary things you need, sometimes things are taken for granted,” Gayle said. “If others don’t have what they need, you’re obligated to give back to them.”
That philosophy carries over to the softball field for Gayle.
“I can see that definitely does carry over to sports,” Gayle said. “I do try to help people on my team when they need it.”
The large senior class has helped the Panthers come together on and off the field.
“The junior varsity and varsity has been the closest team since I’ve been here,” Gayle said. “We’ve bonded much better than in previous years.”
Gayle has played a significant part in the success of the Panthers’ softball program. Southwest has qualified for the state tournament four years in a row and appears to be headed for a fifth straight berth this season.
She has seen herself as well as the team mature over the years. The Panthers are only three wins away from tying the school record for the most wins in a season at 14.
“I feel like a lot of good players have come from Southwest DeKalb over the years,” Gayle said. “We have learned a lot recently, and I feel like I’m a better leader and all-around player this year.”
She has taken on pitching duties full time this season after pitching on occasion as a junior. Gayle has pitched every game for the Panthers, logging 42 innings through the first nine games with 41 strikeouts.
The spike in the program’s success has led to nine scholarships for Panther softball players over the past four seasons. Gayle is likely to be the beneficiary of a scholarship after this season.
“She plays softball because she loves the game,” Foreman said. “She doesn’t have to go to college on a softball scholarship. She can get an academic scholarship. Imani is a pretty good package.”