How UCLA surprised Delanie Wisz with new catching gear for WCWS that's close to her heart
Delanie Wisz was drenched.
After driving in three runs and helping No. 5 UCLA sweep Duke in the Los Angeles super regionals, the Bruins’ catcher was greeted with a cold bath of blue Gatorade on the field of Easton Stadium.
Still wearing her catcher’s equipment, the dye from the sports drink soaked in, ruining the gear.
Little did she know, a new set was already being hauled to Oklahoma City.
Her coach, Kelly Inouye-Perez, almost spoiled the surprise. When the team was packing for its eighth consecutive Women’s College World Series appearance, Wisz reminded her coach she needed new equipment. As assistant coach Kirk Walker was grabbing a new set, Inouye-Perez almost let it slip.
“Oh no, you’re not going to need it,” Inouye-Perez said.
Was Wisz not going to catch? Would she even play? Wisz worried. Inouye-Perez had almost blown the surprise that was three months in the making.
Through the help of sports equipment manufacturer Easton, former UCLA catcher Jen Schroeder and the Wisz family, a secret, custom-made set of catching gear was being crafted specifically for Wisz.
And when the Bruins arrived in Oklahoma City, Wisz was gifted with the equipment.
“We tried to make it as personal as possible to her,” Schroeder said.
And personal it is.
On Friday night, Wisz — donning her new equipment — helped calm starting pitcher Megan Faraimo, tallied two hits and drove in an important RBI in UCLA’s 6-1 win against Northwestern. The Bruins staved off elimination and set UCLA up for a game against the loser of Saturday night's Oklahoma State vs. Florida game.
“I’m just so blessed to be able to receive something like that,” Wisz said.
The gear is a collection of sentimental and meaningful things from Wisz’s life.
The centerpiece of the equipment is the scar Wisz’s sister, Stevie, has. Stevie, who won a softball national championship with UCLA in 2019, has undergone four open heart surgeries in her life after being born with a congenital heart defect called aortic stenosis. The surgeries left her with a large scar down her torso.
The breastplate of the catching gear is an exact replica of the scar, intersecting with another line creating a cross. The Easton logo is placed in the middle.
“It represents her religion and faith in God,” Schroeder said.
On the inside of the mask is a tattoo Wisz has. It reads, “I cannot see you, but I can feel you” with feathers floating around it. The tattoo, along with the initials “HW” are tributes to Wisz’s late older brother, who died as a newborn.
“It’s the very last thing she sees before she puts her mask on,” Schroeder said.
Her number, signature, an American flag, another reproduction of her tattoo and a cross also reside throughout the gear. All of her siblings’ initials rest on the interior of the equipment.
“It’s important it wasn’t showing,” Schroeder said. “We wanted to make her feel like the most empowered player on the field.”
Some UCLA sayings, such as “Fours up” are sprinkled throughout the equipment too.
“It’s super cool, just incredible,” Wisz said.
After three months of preparation, dozens of hours crafting and completing the project and Inouye-Perez nearly spoiling the surprise, Wisz was given the gear at the start of the WCWS. Schroeder, who is sponsored by Easton and her catching gear is given to universities sponsored by the company, presented the equipment to Wisz in the Bruins’ hotel.
The entire team surrounded her. Wisz’s family was in the room. Several representatives from Easton dotted the crowd. Schroeder explained the secretive process her and Wisz’s family went through to create the equipment before handing her each piece individually.
“I told her I hope she feels the way I see her,” Schroeder said. “A confident, bold, amazing young woman.”
Wisz bawled. Schroeder held back tears. Inouye-Perez, who served as UCLA’s catcher in the early ‘90s, joked she was jealous.
“The personal touch just put everything over the top,” Inouye-Perez said. “Awesome day.”
Piecing together a WCWS project
This wasn’t the only set Schroeder and Easton worked on. Since COVID-19, colleges sponsored by Easton haven’t had equipment with colorways matching team colors.
“They just had the regular gear that the travel ball girls or high school players will buy,” Schroeder said. “You can buy it at Dick’s Sporting Goods.”
Schroeder didn’t like that. In her mind, with players competing at the WCWS – the highest level in college softball – they should be treated like that.
She called Julie Tobyansen, Schroeder’s former teammate at UCLA who works at Easton, and pitched the idea. Schroeder said she constantly barraged Easton with crazy ideas, but is thankful the company usually approves those ideas.
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Sure enough, it was given the green light. The caveat? Schroeder needed to do it and fast. The initial idea was to create equipment for three schools who looked poised for WCWS runs. Alabama, Arkansas and her alma mater, UCLA.
Zoom meetings with families were held, designs were created and manufacturing started. The window for creating the gear was so tight, it was shipped straight to Oklahoma, and Schroeder didn’t see it until she handed it to Wisz.
“The idea was that men all the time, MLB players, will have this incredible custom gear made just for them,” Schroeder said. “If this College World Series is the highest place that a softball player will play, then why not?
“So, let’s make them feel like they’re big leaguers.”
But, the idea could grow bigger. The goal is to expand to senior catchers within Easton-affiliated schools.
For right now, Wisz and Schroeder are ecstatic with the current product.
“That gear is super special to me,” Wisz said.
Schroeder said, “I was hopeful this gear would help her see herself in the way that so many others do.”
Want to know the impact of Title IX?:Look no further than the WCWS & softball in Oklahoma