JOLIET— Q2's Athlete of the Week didn't even have to change school colors. Peyton Whitehead bleeds green and white for not one school, but two.
"I don't know, I just fell in love with it ever since I was like, six," she told MTN Sports this week.
Whitehead was talking about softball, while walking through some fond memories on Joliet's Little League diamond. Specifically, picture day when she was about seven years old.
"My dad was at work and he had my bag, so I didn't have anything and remember sobbing my eyes out and freaking out," she said.
A decade later, she can laugh about it. But at that early-aged moment, Whitehead turned to her best friend.
"And she was like, you can use my mitt. I was just crying, and then I hated the way her glove looked with my jersey. I think I was crying in my picture, too."
She produced the photo for MTN Sports, which reveals an adorable smile after hiding tears.
These days, Joliet doesn't field a high school softball team. That meant Peyton's softball choices entering her freshman year would've been to give up the sport, or move to another school.
Fortunately, an unexpected third option arose after one Little League game years ago.
"I got in the car with my mom and he came up," she recalled of a man she didn't recognize, "and we rolled down the window and I was like, who are you, bro?"
Turned out that 'bro' was Billings Central softball coach Coleman Rockwell who had noticed her performance that day.
"Peyton is looking at me like, who is this guy," Rockwell remembered with a laugh.
He asked where she went to school.
"And I told him I went to Joliet, and he said, will you move to Central? And I said, no," she recalled.
Rockwell kept in touch with the family and as Peyton's freshman year approached, the Rams were able to create a softball co-op, meaning Peyton could stay in class at Joliet (where she also played basketball) and continue her softball passion with Central.
So every spring after school, the senior has jumped into her vehicle, hit the road and driven the 60-mile round trip to Central's field.
"I'll do it. I love it," she said. "I'm not going anywhere else."
Rockwell admires the dedication.
"It's every day at 4 p.m., and we have Saturday practices and games. It's a commitment," he said.
And not just a commitment for Peyton anymore. Two other Joliet girls now carpool with her to play for the Rams, who are still undefeated this season.
Whitehead is a starting pitcher and one of Central's top hitters.
"Peyton's heart for softball is just so big," said teammate Brynn Bohrer. "She's already talking about how Senior Night is only 10 nights away, 'it's so sad. It's going to be so sad, the season's over.' And we're like, Peyton, it's okay."
It is okay, because the winding highway she's traveled has also earned her a scholarship to Miles Community College, refilling the hour glass so to speak, before the sun sets on her lifetime love.
"My last college day that I ever play a game... I don't know," she said thinking ahead. "I don't know what I'm going to do."
She can probably count on some tears, much like that memorable picture day on Joliet's Little League field.