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Kissy Merrifield: Mother is ‘coach’ that keeps family together

By Jill Osborn

As an athlete, one learns to be disciplined, to be tenacious, to be team driven. Sports teaches an athlete to bask in the glory of a victory and to brush off the dust after a loss. Some athletes are luckier than others. Some possess natural God-given talent that enables him or her to compete at top levels. Kissy Merrifield knows what it is like to be athletically gifted and she started to shine as a young girl.
As the youngest of six, Kissy was almost like an only child while growing up in South Carolina with her closest sibling being six years older than her. So when her mother was offered a coaching position for the tennis team at a college nearby, little daughter trotted along beside her.
“I was at each practice and match. I was their ball girl and it was so much fun,” Mrs. Merrifield recalls. The young athlete soon picked up a racket, took a few swings, and around the age of 9, she was playing in state tournaments. She won tournament, after tournament — winning a total of ten state tournaments in South Carolina.
“Tennis was my sounding board and what gave me confidence because I was kind of shy — getting out there and meeting people — it kind of shaped the way I am today.” In high school, she was recruited to play at the collegiate level and accepted a scholarship from Wake Forest University. “That was three hours away from home, which was a huge step.” Merrifield played for four years at Wake and always played in the top four spots.
“Being an athlete keeps you out of trouble, focused on time management, and you meet wonderful people,” she said. “You might miss out on social things, but I wouldn’t change anything because it was so fun.” One wonderful person she met was a young baseball player named Bill Merrifield.
“Bill was a sophomore when I was a freshman. He would workout in the weight room and he saw me in there. We started dating,” she smiles. The two were smitten. By her senior year, they married.
Married life was not normal for these two young athletes. Bill had been recruited to play for a minor league baseball team. “It’s nothing like people think. It’s not glamorous,” she laughs. “We were living on $800 a month, maybe. We moved six times a year. There’s spring training for a few weeks and then you are on the road. You also try to find a part-time job in the off season. We were nomads for awhile.” The two young newlyweds even lived in a fish shack in Florida. “There were no doors. We didn’t have my parents come see us because they would have died. We were young. He was trying his best to make it to the big leagues and we didn’t have any children.”
After five years, she got pregnant with their son, Whit. “Bill felt like he had enough and was ready to come home. We wanted to start a family.” Since Bill had left Wake Forest after his junior year to play professional baseball, the young couple decided to come back to Winston-Salem so Bill finish his degree from Wake. Meanwhile, she worked at social services for ten months to help supplement the income.
“The lady who was keeping Whit wanted to go back to school and I ended up taking care of the children she was watching. So I got to be at home with Whit and get paid to watch other children. It was the best of both worlds.”
When Mrs. Merrifield had her daughter, Costner, two years later, she decided to only watch her children since her husband was now working for ISP Sports. The couple also had another son, Hite. “All family names,” the mother explained about her children. Like their parents, the kids began to shine in the sports arena. Whit, the oldest son, went to college at South Carolina and started for the baseball team as center fielder from day one. While his mother was proud of her son, she missed the dynamics of having all three children at home. During that time period, she also lost her father.
“I was sad because the family dimension had so changed. There was a void in my life and a realization that my three kids are never going to be at home again,” she recalls. “I needed something that would make me happy. I thought, ‘What would be better than being around toddlers and getting that unconditional love?’” she applied for a job at Macedonia Moravian Preschool and has been there for the last nine years.
As for her own children, Mrs. Merrifield, like many proud mothers, loves to talk about them. “Whit did well at South Carolina and his team made it to Omaha to play in the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. It was double elimination and they lost the first game, so we had our bags packed and were ready to come home.” But each day, the team kept winning. Finally, they made it to the championship game against UCLA. The game went for eleven innings. Whit was last at bat and struck the winning hit. ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews interviewed Whit, and the hit was replayed on news stations around the country. “That is a memory we will never forget,” the proud mother says. “It’s all very nostalgic. Whit’s been drafted for the Kansas City Royals and is now living the life Bill and I lived. Costner is working in Charlotte and she wants to be a sideline sports reporter like Erin Andrews. I wish they wanted nine-to-five jobs,” mother jokes. “But we support their passions. Hite is a freshman at Davie. He is the biggest sweetie and Whit’s biggest fan.”
Kissy Merrifield says her family remains close despite the distance. Even she and her five other siblings still get together. “My mom would always get us together at the beach one week every summer. We would all go with our families no matter what,” she remarks. “My mom passed away in March and we are all still getting together for Thanksgiving. It’s good to know you are loved and cared about.” The family is a team. Our neighbor and her family have certainly been blessed with athletic talent, but Kissy Merrifield is like a coach that help keeps them united.
Cal Ripken Jr. so eloquently stated, “Sports can play a big role in teaching values and principles. It can be a huge developmental tool for life. Just thinking, teamwork, leadership, work ethic and trust are all part of the game and are also all factors in how we make the most of our lives. So, an essential part of the job of every player, and of all people for that matter, is to help the young people of today learn these lessons so they can live better lives tomorrow.”