UCF’s Alea White Always Has a Special Number in MindFeatured
Alea White looked at the form with jersey numbers listed and noticed the options ranged from 1-25. White didn’t want to make waves as a freshman at the University of Central Florida, but she felt strongly about one number.
White wrote 27 for every choice and hoped the coaches would get the hint.
White was born premature and on life support for 27 days. She weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces, and doctors warned her parents she may be blind and paralyzed if she survived.
Since that day, 27 has become a symbol of resilience, perseverance and inspiration for White and her family.
“I couldn’t imagine not wearing the number. It has just been really special to me from the beginning,” White said. “I wear 27 to show others to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”
White’s career at UCF has proven that point. The redshirt senior pitcher became the program’s all-time wins leader this season.
White enters the NCAA tournament with 96 wins. UCF is playing in the Tallahassee Regional, and opens against Auburn on Friday.
“I am so proud of all Alea’s accomplished. I couldn’t think of a better person to lead our program,” UCF head coach Cindy Ball-Malone said. “It’s been an honor to be a part of her career at UCF and I love handing the ball to her for every one of her starts. She deserves everything she’s earned.”
Terri and Mike White feared their daughter would come out blue and lifeless once she was born at 24 weeks. Instead, she came out pink and crying.
White was immediately put on life support and hooked to numerous machines in the NICU.
Doctors told her parents White had a 50 percent chance of survival and a 75 percent chance of having cerebral palsy or other major complications.
“As you can imagine, hearing that was a lot,” Terri White, said. “The first 24 hours are the most important and they sent us home without our baby. That was the worst thing ever. I was so scared because only the machines were keeping her alive.”
White was rushed into surgery after heart began filling up with fluids. She made it through, and was on the ventilator for 27 days until her family received a call they will always remember.
“That is the day they said, ‘Guess who is breathing on her own?’” her mom said. “But that 27th day we panicked, ‘Oh my God, no. Put her back on it. She can’t breathe on her own. Are y’all crazy?’ But she never went back on it.”
White was airlifted to another hospital to have surgery on her eyes to stop her retinas from detaching.
She was allowed to go home once she reached 4 ½ pounds. She received therapy for her fine motor skills and caught up to most of her peers by age 2.
White started softball at age 5, and was “super nervous” when she went to tryouts. But once she was told about a special treat, her fears melted away.
“I didn’t want to go up to the plate and one of the assistant coaches came up to me and told me, ‘You can do it!’ He was encouraging me, and they told me if you win a softball game you get to go to Dairy Queen. I was so excited,” White said. “I was 5 and I loved ice cream. I went up and hit, and from that instance I fell in love with the game. I knew that was my sport and I was going to give it my all and go for it.”
After White broke the UCF all-time wins record earlier this season with her 81st, her parents wanted to celebrate in throwback fashion.
“We told her we would take her to Dairy Queen. It just seemed like the thing to do since that is how she started loving softball,” her mom said. “But with the team on lockdown because of COVID, we couldn’t do that.”
White’s teammate still managed to give her a cold surprise by dousing her with a Powerade ice bath in the circle after the final out.
“In the moment it didn’t really hit me until I looked up and was surrounded by the girls in our little huddle. I looked up and everyone was so happy and that was just an unbelievable feeling to be surrounded by them,” White said. “It is really special for me to accomplish it with this team. I just love playing with these girls and for these coaches. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After last season was cut short because of COVID, White never hesitated about coming back this year.
She wanted the chance to make more memories with her teammates and be coached by Ball-Malone, a former All-American pitcher at the University of Pacific.
“I just respect her so much and these past two years she has helped me grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine or thank her for,” said White,who graduated in 2020 with a degree in Sport & Exercise Science and is pursuing a master’s in Kinesiology. “It’s more than just softball with Coach Bear. Our relationship is more than just softball and I am grateful for that.”
White’s numbers in the circle will cement her legacy in the UCF history books. But it’s the number on her back that will always mean the most to her family.
It seemed like a divine omen that White remained on life support for 27 days. It’s the date of White’s birthday, her mom’s birthday and her parent’s anniversary.
It’s become a symbol for all White’s endured, all she’s achieved and all she’s still chasing in life.
“I have told Alea from where you started, you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to,” Terri White said. “You have done everything they told me you weren’t going to do, so don’t let anyone tell you there is anything you can’t do.”