When Maddi and Kindra Hackbarth are playing softball, the parents frequently hang posters, wave rally towels and share cutouts of the girls’ faces. (Photo by Marlee Smith/Cronkite News)
PHOENIX – How far would you go to watch your children play sports? More than 78,000 miles if you’re Paul and Mary Hackbarth.
That’s the estimated distance the couple have traveled to watch their twin daughters, Kindra and Maddi, play softball for Arizona State. The two are back in Tempe today to support the fifth-year seniors and their ASU teammates in the Tempe Regional of the NCAA softball postseason.
This is loyalty in its purest form. The parents, who live in Northern California, haven’t taken a vacation since the twins started playing collegiate softball, saving their work vacation time to watch them compete. Sometimes they drive. Other times they fly.
“Family is huge for me and Kindra. They’ve been at every game,” said Maddi, a catcher. “They haven’t missed anything, even if it was for a different sport since we were 4 years old when we started this thing. It means a lot to have that, especially when you go away from home, and you’re in a new place.”
Kindra remembers that “they were at everything as I was growing up, but I feel like it means a little bit more now because it is my senior year. … Not a lot of parents are able to do that for their kids, so I got very lucky.”
The parents are easy to spot at games. They frequently hang banners where they sit with the #wundertwins hashtags. They sport T-shirts and big head cutouts featuring the girls.
The family bond is rich in emotional history.
The twins were born prematurely at 30 weeks and spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit because their lungs weren’t fully developed. After they returned home, they wore monitors at all times to make sure their hearts were beating.
“Maddie had to be intubated right after she was born for a day. Kindra came out a cold blue, so they’ve been ‘wundertwins’ from the get go, you know, with us,” Mary said. “They had to go home on monitors for three months. That was tough. You know, we almost trampled each other, trampled our son the first night.”
Paul explained that “they didn’t share that the sensor may slip off and it may just be a false alarm. And that’s what happened the first time and it was a full race down the hall.”
The “u” in “wundertwins” is not a mistake. Mary typed the wrong letter in a text to ASU softball coach Trisha Ford during the recruiting process and it stuck. The nickname, however, has meaning and reflects the struggles the sisters experienced after they were born.
Maddi and Kindra started their collegiate career at Fresno State then transferred to ASU after their freshman year, following Ford. Both twins have been standouts on the field. Maddi is a third team All-American catcher and current Pac 12 leader in home runs (20) and RBIs (58) and holds ASU’s single-season home run record. Kindra is a first team All-American center fielder.
The twins grew up in Oakdale, California, where they started playing T-ball at the age of 4 because they were too young to join a girls softball league. Their parents have attended every game, home and away, since then. Even when the twins transferred to ASU from Fresno State, Paul and Mary committed to continue going to their games.
“It’s just kind of something that we promised them when they moved in and transferred, that we will do our best to try to get to every single game, (that) one of us will always be there.” Mary said.
After the twins transferred to ASU, expenses were a concern but the parents found a way to make it work.
“When we travel here, we’ve always stayed with them so we don’t have to get a hotel room,” Mary said. “We steal a car, we drop them off and they don’t mind. Like they like it.”
Traveling to see them play at ASU is the easy part. For away games, they need to pay for a hotel room and rental vehicles.
When the Sun Devils play at home, the parents hang flags with pictures of the twins and sport the cardboard cutouts of their faces. They usually aren’t allowed to have these items at opposing teams’ stadiums but still bring rally towels and smaller posters.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for Paul and Mary to watch them play. Sometimes they end up sitting in the parking lot of the opposing team’s stadium because they can’t go in due to attendance restrictions. When they can’t, they show support by honking their car horn.
They were forced to miss the UCLA series in late March because the university didn’t even allow fans to sit in the parking lot. Those four games were the only ones the parents missed during the twins’ entire softball career.
“We did have a moment in our travel career that we weren’t playing on the same team and so that was tough,” Maddi said. “They would split games. My dad would sit in the middle of the two fields if we were playing in the same complex and he would try to watch both games.”
As the girls’ college careers need their end, Paul and Mary plan to be there for the final games, home and away.
It’s the only way they know.