Playing softball with style

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String Theory senior shortstop Justina Newell stands ready in the field in a game against Franklin Learning Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Justina Newell plays shortstop in style.

She’s a high school senior with a passion for fashion, but she’s also great with a glove and goes bonkers with a bat as one of the best softball players in South Philly. Newell is driven to succeed in both of her passions.

“I love fashion,” Newell said. “Kind of shocking because (fashion and softball) are two completely different things. I love putting outfits together and once in a while, I model. It’s very different but it helps me with my leadership skills.”

Newell has been involved with commercial modeling after taking photos of herself, posing in different clothing brands and tagging the companies in her photos. It caught the eye of a few agencies and her phone started ringing. A few photo shoots later, she began balancing fashion with softball, which she has played competitively since fifth grade, while her tee ball skills go back even further.

String Theory senior shortstop Justina Newell gets ready for an at-bat. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Now she’s a co-captain of her squad at The Philadelphia Performing Arts: String Theory Charter School, batting third and playing shortstop. Her great footwork on the left side of the infield can be credited to her background in dance.

“I’ve done ballet since I was a baby,” Newell said. “It’s a lot, especially my teacher who can be very hard on us. But it’s good. She always tells us to never say ‘no’ to a challenge and never give up on yourself. It’s a really great mindset to also have in softball. If you mess up, keep going. The game’s not over.”

String Theory senior shortstop Justina Newell dives for a ground ball and flips to second baseman Nicolette Otto for a force out in a game against Franklin Learning Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

That mindset is exemplified each time Newell takes the field for String Theory. Like many other programs, the Knights didn’t field a team the last two springs because of the pandemic. Players on the 2022 roster had little or no high school softball experience heading into the season. Newell played her freshman year and kept sharp during the pandemic with the help of her dad.

“Me and my dad would have a catch outside,” said Newell, who lives near 17th and Shunk streets. “He’s the one that taught me how to catch. I would stand from block to block and every time I dropped it I would have to restart.”

The skills were in place. Newell then shouldered a leadership role as the team reformed under first-year coach Lara Appelbaum. 

String Theory senior shortstop Justina Newell fields a hot grounder before recording an out in a game against Franklin Learning Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“The leadership from Justina and (second baseman) Nicolette Otto really helped motivate the team and really brought them in under the fold,” said Appelbaum. “That combo of my two captains right next to each other on the field, and their positive communication with the team, has really been great leadership.”

The Knights racked up four wins in their first eight games and came up just short in an 11-8 loss to a talented Franklin Learning Center squad on May 2, showing huge signs of potential and maturity, led by Newell, who celebrated her 18th birthday at the start of May. 

“It’s a very good feeling to mature and show the younger kids how it is to grow up,” Newell said. “Especially as COVID took over two years of my high school experience. But I think this past year with softball and creating that team really gave me those two years back.”

String Theory senior shortstop Justina Newell stands ready in the field in a game against Franklin Learning Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Newell, an honors student, will attend Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida to pursue a career in fashion next year. She’s one of six seniors on the Knights’ roster including Otto, Saige Leone, Ava Valais, Francesca DiPlacido and Giulia McGee. Taking over will be a young group of players who learned from that senior class, especially the example set by Newell.

“Justina is incredible,” Appelbaum said. “She’s tall, lanky and graceful. She moves well and she’s got a lot of heart, a lot of drive and a lot of passion for this team and for her teammates. You can tell she brings her A-game every single day.”

It’s part of the challenge Appelbaum made to Newell this season.

String Theory shortstop Justina Newell fires to third to get a force out in a game against Franklin Learning Center. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“It’s great to have that weight on my shoulders to show the younger kids what it’s like to be a leader,” Newell said. “But at the same time, it’s a lot of responsibility that I have to do good and always have my head in the game and always play my best.” 

She always seems to find a way.