Adversity often prepares young athletes for the challenges in life, but for two senior ballplayers on the New Hanover High School baseball team, having an opportunity to play for the Wildcats and continue their careers at the college level is something that wasn’t certain just a few years ago.
With Trey Croom and Cory Everett off to a standout season for one of the top high school teams in the area, the two “bionic brothers” were eager to talk about their passion and how they were not going to let even the toughest of circumstances interrupt their love of the game.
Everett is now back on the field after facial reconstructive surgery for injuries he suffered when he was hit in the face with a baseball while throwing batting practice in the cage his freshman year at Topsail High School.
His face was crushed–broken eye sockets, broken cheeks and broken nose–and his frontal lobe was completely smashed in, in addition to a slight brain bleed. If he had not turned his head just slightly he would have been killed, Everett recalled.
“Immediately when it happened I kept a good attitude about the whole thing and that really helped in the recovery process along with a ton of support from family and friends,” said Everett. “I wasn’t really sure how it would all pan out, but the doctors were awesome and they tried to keep me upbeat because they knew that I would eventually be fine after a couple of years.”
Everett’s dad raced him to Medac and the doctors immediately sent him to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Because the swelling was so bad the doctors could not operate right away, but eventually a neurosurgeon and maxiofacial surgeon completed a successful surgery, with titanium all over his face. They also closed up his sinus cavity with abdominal tissue so that air would not get into his brain.
“There was a big recovery process coming off of it and it was hard at the beginning to just a throw the ball to first base,” said Everett. “I couldn’t even put it in within an 8-foot radius. It was a lot physical therapy and took about a year to get close to where I was on the field.”
While Everett deals with sinus issues to this day, with one more surgery possible in his future, the Mount Olive commit has grown from this experience and uses this near-fatal event to build on what has been a successful high school baseball career.
“I kept myself around the field during that time off and finally got back to playing after almost a year and now I try to play 200 percent,” Everett said. “I try to play every game like it’s my last and it kind of gave me a different look on life. A lot of stuff will happen to you in life and sometimes it’s tough for a while, but in the in the real deal of this whole situation, it’s pretty great to able to do what I’m doing right now.”
Croom was diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis the summer after his seventh grade year. He had previously played football for Myrtle Grove Middle School and had a promising career, but after couple of “stingers” on the gridiron, followed by a neck injury in a swimming pool that caused him to go numb from the neck to his toes, Croom’s status as an athlete was in doubt.
“I never really experienced being out of sports as long a time as I was and at the time was shocked,” said Croom. “Fortunately, it didn’t happen during season or else I probably would have been way more depressed if it had been, but it definitely was a shock. I had to wait out six months before I played sports and went to physical therapy. I have to give it up to my doctors. They did wonders on my body and I don’t know if I’d be here without them.”
The Croom family went to Duke University Hospital for a consultation and he was sidelined from all contact activities, with no hope of playing sports in the future.
“We were blessed with an adult neurosurgeon that operated that summer, giving him hopes of playing baseball,” said Amy Croom, Trey’s mom. “The short of it is they expanded his spinal column diameter with titanium through a procedure called a laminoplasty. We are blessed that not only he can still walk and talk, but can play baseball.”
While instances like this can take a teenager through many ups and downs, Croom’s faith and character have grown immensely since that time and has led him to take a more serious approach to his work on and off the field, he said.
“I think it was mental hurdle for me to get over once I got back on the field because I feel like nothing ever happened, but for the first year or two after I was just nervous, I think,” he said. “I’ve been playing this game for my whole life practically. I love being out here and I want to stay in baseball as long as I can after I’m done playing.
“This is where I spend my free time. Nothing else is more fun than being out here with these guys and just playing the game and having fun.”
Croom and Everett say they never felt sorry for the things that happened to them, but they also never let their injuries slow them down.
Everett and Croom both did their senior projects on the uphill climbs they faced. Croom worked with the “head’s up” football program as one wrong hit during football and he could have left him been dead or paralyzed. Everett worked with the Miracle League, which gives individuals with disabilities a chance to play the game of baseball.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Everett. “During the process I learned so many things and I look to major in psychology in college because of it. We’ve grown up together, played ball for a long time together and it’s going to be tough to end it here at New Hanover, but it’s awesome to know that Trey, me and Ward [Coleman] will have a chance to play in college and will stay in touch for sure.”
Joe Catenacci is a sports writer for Port City Daily and host of The Sports Connection on 103.7 FM at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Mondays. Reach him at email@example.com.