JACKSON TWP — Claire Zimmerman scrolled through the email expecting to see a rejection.
But as her eyes fixed on the word “congratulations,” she held her breath for a moment and a large smile widened across her face.
“I thought I would see something like, 'Thank you, but we had so many great applicants. Sorry,'” Zimmerman said. “But when I saw I got it I was like, 'Oh my gosh! No way!'”
The $1,000 scholarship the Seneca Valley senior and pitcher on the Raiders' softball team received came from a very unlikely source.
The National Football League Players Association.
“It was kind of crazy,” Zimmerman said. “You wouldn't think the NFLPA would want some softball player, right?”
But the organization did.
The scholarship was less about sport and more about academics, character and leadership.
Zimmerman checked all three boxes.
“It was a thing you could apply for and I put her name in for it,” said Seneca Valley softball coach George Trew. “I wrote her a letter of recommendation for it. I wrote about her academic record — she's an excellent student — her leadership and all the other things she does to go along with being a good athlete and pitcher.”
Former NFL player Ron Coder presented Zimmerman, who carries a 4.6 GPA, with the scholarship check at Seneca Valley High School Thursday.
Zimmerman then went out later that afternoon and tossed a four-inning no-hitter against Blackhawk in her final home game.
On Senior Night on Wednesday, Zimmerman hit a three-run home run.
“That was pretty cool,” Zimmerman said. “The timing was right, I guess. It was really exciting. It's a good memory to have on Senior Night. (The last two games at home) were a great way to wrap up my career at Seneca. But I'm not done yet.”
The Raiders qualified for the WPIAL 6A playoffs and will open with Canon-McMillan at 6 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny.
Zimmerman has been a big reason for that postseason push for the 14-5 Raiders.
She's 14-4 this season as a starting pitcher with a 1.84 ERA. She's struck out 73 batters in 114 innings.
Those are impressive stats for a pitcher who has to go up against the strong hitting teams in stacked WPIAL Section 1-6A.
“It's definitely a challenge every day to go out and play in this section,” Zimmerman said. “You can't take it easy against anyone. Every game is a challenge and you just have to focus on one batter at a time because if you think about who's coming up later, it'll get overwhelming.”
Zimmerman is no stranger to the circle.
She got a taste of varsity pitching as a freshman and became the main starter as a sophomore.
Over the years she's honed her craft.
“Her fastball has gotten faster and she's gotten better with her control,” Trew said. “She's obviously matured a lot over four years. She works at it all the time.”
In addition to playing travel softball during the summer, Zimmerman also gives softball lessons to younger players, teaching them the finer points of the game.
“I have a couple I work with pretty regularly and a few more I've picked up here and there,” Zimmerman said. “It's really fun working with younger kids and teaching them what I wish I knew when I was younger.”
The typical age range of the players she coaches is 8 to 12.
“I'm always thrilled and always proud of them,” Zimmerman said. “It's a great feeling for me to know I helped them through their journey.”
Zimmerman is also an academic tutor, working with middle school students on whatever subject is giving them trouble.
Zimmerman will attend Slippery Rock University next year and major in biology. She will also play for The Rock softball team.