UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — Erica Hampton believes her experience as a captain on the field for the University of Illinois at Chicago softball team will prepare her to make critical decisions powering a nuclear U.S. Navy ship.
The Flames senior catcher was accepted into the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Program earlier this year. After graduating from UIC in December of 2015, Hampton will start the 12-week Officer Training School in South Carolina before serving four years in the Navy and four additional years in the Navy Reserve.
Her time on the water will be spent with a naval team in charge of running a ship's nuclear power plant and making sure no accidents happen.
While interviewing with Navy officers for the program in San Diego and Washington, D.C., Hampton said her background as a softball catcher would be crucial on a nuclear-powered watercraft.
"Being a catcher, you have to make decisions," Hampton said. "Softball has helped me branch out and become more of an extrovert, and it's helped my communication skills."
Ironically, Hampton is a native of Wichita, about a few-hour drive from the geographical center of the 48 contiguous United States in Lebanon, Kansas. She's never been on a vessel other than a speed boat on reservoirs near Kansas' largest city. Plus, Hampton has never been out of the country.
Hampton isn't concerned with seasickness, but said her "greatest fear" is making sure she "doesn't let anyone down."
Flames coach Michelle Venturella believes that won't be a problem for Hampton.
"When I think of the position she will hold with the Navy, it makes me feel proud and safe to know that she will be serving her country in that capacity," Venturella said. "She is such an intelligent, hard-working, selfless person who is so humble about all of the tremendous accomplishments in her life."
Although Hampton won't graduate for more than a year and has one more year of athletic eligibility, she already has the rank of petty officer first class. She's excited to earn a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, plus continue her Flames softball tenure, which has seen her start 100 of 110 career games.
Hampton's father, Dave, a respiratory therapist, said his daughter always has bucked the trend. She's one of a handful of female electrical engineering majors at UIC. During interviews for the officer program, Hampton said she was one of three women in a group of 33 total candidates.
Dave Hampton said he felt "shock, pride and awe" that Erica was accepted into the program.
"You always worry about any child going into the military and getting in harm's way," he said. "And then you get a sense of pride when the Navy took a female into a highly dominated male arena. And then you become very proud."
Hampton said that growing up in Kansas, "you always want to know what else is out there." The senior said her softball path, which commenced as a 12-year-old with the Wichita-based Mustang Softball club, allowed her to reach UIC and Chicago's big shoulders, which enabled her to find a track into the Navy.
She said it will be an "honor" to represent the Flames and her country on board a military ship.
"I guess it's awesome that I'm able to do this, and I want to be very successful," Hampton said.
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