Sumaiya Delane realizes that when most people see her play softball, they notice her wardrobe before anything else.
Unlike her Springbrook High School teammates, she sports pants, not shorts, a full-sleeved undershirt, not a partial sleeve, and a hijab, not an uncovered head. A Muslim, Delane dresses that way for religious reasons.
“Since I wear the scarf, I think people would think that I’m meek, sort of quiet and I’m not athletic and outgoing,” Delane said. “But I still am. I think people underestimate me.
“After they see me play, then they might notice me for my skill more.”
Delane, a sophomore third baseman, is doing all she can to make that a reality.
Blessed with a natural athleticism, Delane played junior varsity last season — “That was really easy to me,” she said — and was named the team’s most valuable player. Practicing in advance of her first varsity season, Delane received a challenge from her coaches: Throw a softball into a bucket sitting just beyond an 8-foot fence from 10 feet away, and she and her teammates wouldn’t have to run.
“We obviously intended to have them run, because we didn’t think anyone would ever get the ball in the bucket,” said Springbrook coach Erica Bader.
On day two, Delane made the shot, and Springbrook’s coaches, increasingly aware of Bader’s ability, developed a new running determinant.
Delane, a three-sport athlete, sees the next step as developing her ability — whether it be her throwing mechanics in softball, footwork in soccer or dribbling in basketball. That way, her athletic performance is even more likely to become the focus of fans’ attention.
But as long as they ask respectfully — which hasn’t always been the case — she’ll remain more than willing to answer questions about why she wears a hijab.
Yes, she gets hot with the extra layers, but she's mostly gotten used to it. Besides, there are more important elements at play.
“It’s part of my religion, and it’s to stay modest and cover my body, since I think it’s something precious and should be held sacred and not exposed and exploited,” Delane explains.
Beyond that, she knows a hijab is a visible symbol of her faith, and hopes her athletic feats supplement that, not replace it.
“Some kids might try and get attention by dying their hair or getting a crazy Mohawk,” Delane said. “I like bringing positive attention to myself to show that I stand for something substantial.”
Delane, who began playing softball only when she missed a signup deadline for basketball in fourth grade and initially considered the new sport boring, has brought plenty of positive attention to herself during her first varsity season. Springbrook’s No. 6 hitter, she was hitting .313 with a .526 on-base percentage through Thursday.
If that weren’t enough, she also recently won medals at the Montgomery County Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological & Scientific Olympics and an election for student government association treasurer.
“I want people to look at me more for just somebody that wears head scarves,” Delane said. “I don’t want them to know me for that. I want them to know me as a good person and somebody that tried to do their best in everything they could.”