By BRANDON LACHANCE
MENDOTA – While Rylee Klema attended Mendota High School she knew there were two things she planned to do with her life after graduation in May 2018.
She wanted to continue playing softball in college and she wanted to enlist in the Army and be a part of the ROTC program.
Klema accomplished both as she joined the program and the softball team at Rockford University.
Fast forward to April 24, 2022 and she was the starting pitcher for the second game of a Senior Night doubleheader.
On April 28, she left Illinois to begin her deployment with the Army.
“It went by so fast. Honestly, I remember being a freshman on the softball field and the next thing you know it’s Senior Night,” Klema said. “I don’t know where the time went. I remember Senior Night in high school like it was yesterday. And then four years later I’m doing it again. That’s crazy.”
In Game 1 of the Senior Night doubleheader, Rockford University defeated Lakeland University, 3-2.
Klema was hoping to leave the Sunday night action with another win, but Lakeland's bats came alive and defeated Rockford, 12-5.
In the loss, Klema had eight hits, six runs – five earned – no walks, and no strikeouts in four innings.
“This season I’ve been struggling with a lot of shoulder problems. It actually started last season and they’ve just been getting worse,” said Klema, who hit and pitched at MHS but only took to the circle after her freshman year at RU. “Going into Senior Night and our last home game, I just wanted to be able to do the best I knew I was able to do even with the shoulder problems. I was kind of fighting through those during the game, but I wanted to be able to play one more home game.
“I wanted to play well in front of my dad (Larry Klema) because it was only the second game he got to see this season. Emotions were high. It wasn’t easy going through the game knowing that I have done better and that this was the best I have right now.
“I’m happy I got to finish with the group I was with. They made it all the better. I knew I had a great team to back me up in the circle. I had a lot of people come out and watch me, which was awesome that they made the drive. It was nice being able to have one last home game with everyone that was there. I invited quite a few people. The people I wanted to see during that game. Everyone showed up and I couldn’t have been happier. Seeing everyone after the game and all of the support, it was really great.”
Rockford University played four away games before she left. She pitched in two of them as she struck out four and only allowed four hits and one earned run in a 6-1 victory over Dominican University on April 26 and she suffered a 2-1 loss to Concordia University Wisconsin on April 27 after giving up six hits and two earned runs.
Klema ended her season with a 5-10 record. Her deployment forced her to miss the last four games of the regular season and the postseason.
Now it's time to represent the red, white, and blue.
“I will do some training for the first month and then we’re going to head overseas,” said Klema. “We’ll be overseas for nine months. When we come back, we’re going to do some debriefings. Then I’ll finally get to come home. It’ll be 10 months to a year before I’m back home.
“There is a lot of emotions toward it. I’m excited to go and do something and serve my country. I want to help out in any way I can. I’m also very nervous. I’ve never done this before. I’ve never been to Florida. I don’t know what to expect. I’m going into it – not quite like basic training – but in similar fashion.
“I don’t want to go off of other people’s opinions. I want to make my own story out of this experience. When I first found out I was being deployed, I thought, ‘It’s about time’, because I knew it was going to happen. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen. I wasn’t too surprised because there was talk about going to other places in the past.”
The anxiousness or nerves of being deployed didn't hit home with Klema until the final week when she could see Senior Night and deployment on her schedule.
When her deployment is over in the spring of 2023, she already has plans inked upon her return.
Klema plans to work the rest of 2023 and then return to Rockford University in spring of 2024 so she can finish her last semester to earn her Bachelor's Degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology.
And depending on her shoulder, she wants to return to the circle.