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Jane Littleton: Mindset Over Matter

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VIA Poly Prep
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In 2016, Jane Littleton was interviewed for an NPR podcast, where she learned the story of Kay Massar, the first girl to play Little League in the 1950s. To close off the interview, Littleton was asked, “If you could play for the rest of your life, would you do it?”

“Yes,” Littleton confidently responded.

“Like in high school and professionally even?”

“Yeah.”

“You would do it?” the interviewer asked.

“Definitely.”

Littleton had already set her goal. She was ten years old.

Six years later, Littleton’s mental tenacity has not wavered in the slightest, and she is en route to becoming a collegiate athlete.

To some, Littleton might seem certifiably insane. She wakes up at the crack of dawn to lift weights, stretch, study, and begin her daily intake of 140 grams of protein. She then transitions to hours spent on the field, working tirelessly to hit a yellow ball as hard as she can, to throw it as hard as she can, and to make diving catches on the softball field look as effortless as she can. Off the field, she is spending time sitting on a piano bench, refining her classical skills with Chopin. This is all while maintaining an academic standard that her best friend Lucia Zaremba describes as “insane and borderline disturbing.” Most people would wonder why any sixteen-year-old would commit herself to seeming torture.

“When some people learn that I grew up only playing sports with boys, they make the assumption that that’s where my athleticism is derived from. I think that narrative can be damaging. I always try to stress that I was just an athlete that was taken seriously. It really didn’t have so much to do with the male-dominated environment, just the fact that it was an environment that took me seriously. I think that’s always important to point out.”

— Jane Littleton

Here’s why: when she was eight, Littleton started playing baseball. She started locally — inspired by her older brother’s pursuit of the game — and didn’t stop until she was fourteen and competing at a high level nationwide.

Littleton was often the only girl on her team, but described her experience as entirely positive. “I was very serious about getting better, the same way my teammates were,” Littleton stated, “and I think they respected that. No one ever gave me any trouble.”

“My parents were always my biggest support system,” Littleton pointed out. “They just wanted me to work hard at what I was passionate about, so they were completely supportive of my baseball journey.”

In her early years, Littleton’s classmates noticed her refined work ethic and drive. Lowie Giles, a current student at Poly Prep, recalls attending elementary school with Littleton. Throughout her elementary career, Littleton “could dominate any student in any competition with no hesitation.” Littleton was envied by her classmates for her ability to take home all the trophies on field day and win all games during recess. She did not just shine through athletics. “Her drive was on and off the field,” said Giles. “She had a certain energy in the classroom that demonstrated true intelligence, not just the ability to achieve good grades.”

Littleton recognizes her baseball background as a likely contributor to her current mindset and skill. However, she’s hesitant to include it as a part of her story. “When some people learn that I grew up only playing sports with boys, they make the assumption that that’s where my athleticism is derived from. I think that narrative can be damaging. I always try to stress that I was just an athlete that was taken seriously. It really didn’t have so much to do with the male-dominated environment, just the fact that it was an environment that took me seriously. I think that’s always important to point out.”

Additionally, Littleton believes people wrongfully misplace her current drive and seriousness as a product of her athletic career. In reality, Littleton explains, “it really has more to do with life experiences than anything that happened on a field.”

In September 2017, when Littleton was 11, her Dad was diagnosed with metastatic stage 4 kidney cancer. While struggling to accept the reality of losing her father decades earlier than she had imagined, Littleton began taking on the challenges of unwanted emotional maturity, independence, and family responsibility.

“Yeah, it was definitely hard,” Littleton said with a sigh. “It was hard for my family. I looked up to my Dad, so it was difficult to see him get sick.” Littleton admired her Dad’s ability to take care of her family and set her and her brothers up for success, even after his terminal diagnosis.

While her Dad fought a three-year battle with cancer, Littleton described a shift in her mindset.

“I was forced to re-evaluate what I wanted out of my life,” Littleton explained. “It was something that I would have rather not had to figure out at eleven,” Littleton said with a dry laugh, “but looking back, I think I figured out my core values pretty early on, and for that, I’m grateful.”

Littleton witnessed her father’s passing just two weeks after she turned thirteen and described that moment as “completely transformative,” both spiritually and mentally.

While her experience was incredibly difficult and brought on immense change for her family, Littleton believes that the experience gave her a “new sense of clarity and focus that [she] wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

After her Dad’s death, Littleton began working harder to practice her core values daily. “Experiencing loss and grief made me not want to waste anything,” Littleton explained. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘oh, I have to work hard and achieve this and that to make my Dad proud.’ I thought of it more as, ‘my Dad gave me this opportunity to work hard, and I’m not going to waste it.’”

When Littleton started high school, she saw the switch to softball as an opportunity to play at an even higher level and took it. She made varsity in 8th grade and has been impacting the team since. “Everyone on the team calls Littleton ‘Alpha,’ said Lucia Zaremba, “She always works the hardest and puts in full effort to everything she does, on and off the field.”

In 2022, Littleton tried out for Stars National Coleman, a nationally ranked softball team, and made the roster. Being on this roster entails 12-18 hours of training every weekend in southern New Jersey and traveling across the country this summer with the aim of getting players recruited and winning a national title.

“It’s what I want out of a team,” Littleton stated. “To push myself to my breaking point and compete with teammates who want to be their best selves too. I think the mindset that kind of process builds is incredibly rewarding. In sports and in life too.”

Going into her sophomore summer, Littleton was confident that every early morning wake-up, late night study session, lift, practice, and sacrifice will be worth it. “I’ve never put in the work and had that work not be worth it.” Littleton reaffirmed.

“I truly believe that every day is a blessing. My Dad taught me not to waste those blessings, so I won’t.”

This September 2023, six years after her Dad’s cancer diagnosis in 2017, three years after his passing in 2020, and two years since her switch to softball, Littleton announced her commitment to play Division I softball at Yale University.

I asked Littleton if her intense work ethic and mindset will change now that her childhood goal has been achieved.

She stated that she won’t stop until she secures a “natty” with her Stars National teammates and Ivy League championships with the Yale Bulldogs.

“And then? Will your work ethic change after that?”

Littleton laughed as if throughout my year of following her journey, that was the dumbest question I had asked her.

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About the Contributor
Reese Roaman, Sports Editor
After two years of writing news pieces for the Polygon, Reese has joined the staff as a sports editor for her Junior year. During her Sophomore year, Reese was enrolled in Intro to Journalism, where she discovered a love for writing profiles and investigative journalism. Aside from writing for the Polygon, Reese is the Director of Marketing for Model UN, a working group leader for Women Affinity, a student government representative, blue key ambassador, polyglot contributor, triple season athlete, member of acapella, and an avid water drinker. Outside the Poly campus, Reese enjoys begging her parents for a dachshund and rating food.

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