The long journey home
Freshman rises from Russian orphanage to ace at Bible Baptist
There have been times this season when a pitch call hasn’t gone Jenna Bont’s way and she’ll look at her coach and laugh.
“She just gives me the look,” Baptist Bible coach Bill Higley said.
They both know. They both know the pitcher’s circle at BBC in Clarks Summit, Pa., or wherever the season has taken Bont, Higley and the rest of the Defenders, is truly another world from where she’s been.
She was born in Krasnodar, Russia, a small city on a lake in the southern part of the country, just east of the Black Sea.
|BONT'S SEASON STATS|
In some ways, it sounds idyllic. For Jenna, it was anything but.
“I remember being sent away from the house where I was taken care of and being placed in an orphanage with my brother,” Bont recalled. “I lived in three orphanages.”
Jenna was called Irina when she lived in Russia and does not know the last name she had at birth. She only remembers seeing her mother once or twice. She has a younger brother, about four years younger than her, but they were separated after Jenna moved on from her first orphanage.
“I was too old for it,” Bont explained, “and he was too young to move on.”
Eventually, Jenna’s brother was adopted by a family in Ireland. They haven't seen each other since.
The date was Nov. 11, 1999. Jenna was only 6, but the date is indelibly stamped in her memory.
That was the date she flew to Michigan to meet her adoptive family. That was the date her new life began.
It was a life that almost never got to be. It was close, closer than the difference between a ball and a strike shaving the outside edge of the plate.
Her adoptive parents, Linda and Tim Bont, had gone to Russia to adopt another little girl. But while they were on their way, the other child’s father came to the orphanage and took her away.
“By the time they landed she had gone,” Jenna explained. “I was the first one the orphanage director recommended. They decided to adopt me instead.”
Jenna knows where she’d be if they hadn’t. It wouldn’t be in Michigan or at Baptist Bible.
“It would be exactly the opposite from what I have here,” she said. “I’m not even sure I would have graduated high school in Russia. I was in my last year in the orphanage, and after that I was being sent to school. After that, I pretty much had no chance to be adopted.”
The Bonts (at the time of this article they were on a medical mission trip to Togo and could not be interviewed) took Jenna home to Fremont, Mich., a small city just east of Lake Michigan, the home of the Gerber baby food company.
After having three boys of her own, Linda Bont hoped Jenna would be her prissy little girl. Instead, she was a tomboy, playing sports just like her older brothers. She gravitated to softball because it was the closest thing to baseball, which one of her brothers played in college.
There were two or three scholarship offers from Division II schools coming out of high school, but Jenna chose Baptist Bible because she wanted an education with a religious background. A small Division III school of about 500 students, BBC is one of about 70 bible colleges in America. Every student is a bible major on top of their other field of study.
Jenna is an early childhood and elementary education major. One day she hopes to reconnect with her brother and plans to return to Russia, perhaps permanently, to work with abandoned children in orphanages.
Meanwhile, there is softball. Though only a freshman, Bont has become the No. 1 pitcher on the Defenders' staff. Through April 23, she was 10-9 with a 6.15 ERA and appearances in 22 of her team’s 36 games. When not pitching, she’s an infielder, batting .213 with seven doubles, a home run and 16 RBI.
“She’s a delight to be around,” Higley said. “A lot of fun with a great sense of humor. We have a pretty close team, and she’s fit in well with that. She’s very personable -- she’ll talk to anyone.
“Once you get past the idea that she’s from Russia -- she has a little of that Eastern European look -- once you get to know her she’s a pretty normal American kid.”
A normal American kid with anything but a normal background, but despite what she’s been through, Jenna wouldn’t change her life at all. A deeply religious person, she firmly believes there has been a purpose for the things that have happened in her life.
“God planned this for me, and I’m so happy for it,” Bont said. “It would be disappointing to have had anything different.”
Jenna has a favorite bible verse. It is from Isaiah Chapter 40, and it reads in part like this:
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord does not become weary or tired. ... Those who will wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”