Livingston teacher pitches her way into Israeli softball hall of fame

Livingston teacher pitches her way into Israeli softball hall of fame

Shyella Mayk winds up at an international game in Zagreb, Croatia. Photos courtesy Shyella Mayk
Shyella Mayk winds up at an international game in Zagreb, Croatia. Photos courtesy Shyella Mayk

When she was patrolling right field as a freshman at Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch in 1992, Shyella Mayk couldn’t have known that someday she would be recognized as a star pitcher and a prized member of the Israel Softball Hall of Fame.

Yet there she was, being inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 16 for teaching Israeli girls and women the skills necessary to play fastpitch softball, for founding the Israel women’s national softball team, and for representing Israel in past European championships and the Maccabiah Games.

After graduating from Quinnipiac University in Conn., Mayk moved to Tel Aviv in 2000, and was disappointed to discover that females played only slow pitch softball, a sport she described as far less challenging and competitive. The ball is thrown with an arc so that a batter can hit it easily, and as opposed to fastpitch, bunting and base-stealing are not permitted. 

Mayk said her pitches can cross home plate at 60 miles an hour. She hurls a variety of pitches that include a slider, a drop, a screwball, and her weapon of choice when she’s going for a strikeout, “a change-up.”

With strong support from her father, who paid for her pitching lessons when she was in high school and played catch with her every day in the backyard of their home in Eatontown, Mayk said she “got better and better. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I was pitching perfect games,” and piling up the strikeouts. 

When she moved to Israel, male ballplayers discovered her skills and invited her to join their teams, but the Israeli sports officials did not wish to launch a co-ed league. Instead, the Israel Softball Association suggested that Mayk gauge women’s interest in playing fastpitch. “And that’s when I discovered there was a desire for the women to learn the game,” she said. 

Mayk ran practice sessions — pitching for both teams in a single game — and taught them the finer points of how to steal and bunt. By the spring of 2002, the women she trained were up to speed with the fastpitch game. After the newly formed league conducted tryouts, the players who made the cut travelled to Croatia and Slovenia for their first international competitions. 

Since then, the Israel women’s national softball team has consistently competed every other summer in the European championship games, every fourth summer in the Maccabiah Games, and for the first time, in the 2016 Surrey WBSC Women’s World Softball Championship in Canada.

Off the field, Mayk’s life has been a busy one as well.

She moved back to the United States in 2004 after she married her Israeli-born husband, Amit. They reside in Livingston, where they are parents of 3-year-old and 4-month-old sons. As a dual citizen, she returns to Israel every summer during vacation from her work as a health and physical education teacher at Heritage Middle School in Livingston and a trainer of aspiring physical education teachers as an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University. 

Mayk plans to spend the next year on extended maternity leave while she works on her doctoral dissertation at Columbia University’s Teachers College. But Mayk said she is anxious to get back in the game.

“I love to play tennis and run track,” she said. “But what I really like to do is strike people out.”

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