Softball Team Bestowed Military Medal

Eastern Washington University’s fastpitch softball team was given a very special award by an umpire while playing Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., on March 24. The umpire, an Air Force veteran, bestowed his “challenge coin” from basic training to the team after umpiring several of their games over the last two years.

“On Saturday, our club was given several compliments about our professionalism, positive representation of our university, and the presence we have on the field by both umpires. On Sunday, I was approached by the home-plate umpire between the second and third games,” said catcher Breann Booher, a senior from Port Orchard. “He wanted to award our club with his challenge coin. He has been holding on to his from basic training for 28 years and decided to award our club with it for ‘changing his life and his love of the game.’ It was a pretty incredible accomplishment.”

Dave Millet, director of the EWU Veteran’s Resource Center, echoes her sentiments. “This is a pretty neat story – especially for someone to give up their coin that they got from basic training. I hope the softball team has someplace to display it,” said Millet. “As someone who has given and received many challenge coins over my military career, for the softball team to receive a coin is an honor that should not be taken lightly. I would suggest the team captain carry this coin with them for future games to keep the spirit of the coin alive.”

The professionalism and positive representation of the university are nothing new for club team. “These girls are a perfect example of how I want all of our clubs to represent not only their club, but Eastern Washington University as well,” said Rick Scott, coordinator of club sports. “They currently are, and have always been, a model example of these, both on and off the field. I am very proud of their reward, and truly believe that they deserve it. I am just glad to see that other people see what these girls do and recognize them for their efforts.”

For now, Booher has the coin in her possession, but it’s sure to become part of the softball team’s lore. “I have it and wish I could split it into 13 pieces because it has everything to do with every girl on this team. It’s pretty awesome!” said Booher.

Millet the story of challenge coins date to the first world war:

“According to the most common story, challenge coins originated during World War I. American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy young ment attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallion, the pilots’ aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man’s land.

Eventually, he stumbled onto a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot’s American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to execute him. He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his would-be executioners and one of his French captors recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine.

Back at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished through challenge in the following manner – a challenger would ask to see the medallion. If the challenged could not produce a medallion, they were required to buy a drink of choice for the member who challenged them. If the challenged member produced a medallion, then the challenging member was required to pay for the drink.

The challenge coin tradition has spread to other military units, in all branches of service, and even to non-military organizations.  Today, challenge coins are given to members upon joining an organization, as an award to improve morale, and sold to commemorate special occasions or as fundraisers.”