first played Little League baseball when she was 8 years old and walked the entire season. After the year, Procter approached her grandfather, Louis Procter, and announced she wasn't going to walk anymore.
During the next several months, Louis saw Armani out in the park every day swinging the bat with family members. She constantly had people to toss her ball and asked questions on how to improve her game. The next year, Armani swung often in games.
"The drive was just there," Louis said.
From then, Armani, led by her inner desire and strong family support, has emerged as one of Chicago's top softball players. However, Procter is a rarity. Usually the best softball players come from the suburbs, but she plays inner-city softball for Chicago International Charter-Longwood Academy (Chicago)
It's a school where many kids don't have the necessary home support and transportation to play for high-level travel teams and gain the experience and exposure needed to become a college-level talent.
John Shenberger, Longwood's athletic director and former softball coach, is in his 13th year at the school. He labeled Procter "without a doubt" Longwood's best softball player ever. Shenberger said Procter, who carries a 3.1 GPA, "embodies the phrase student-athlete." Her family support is the exception, not the norm, at Longwood.
Procter, who relishes her role as a leader at Longwood, is one of four siblings. She has received plenty of help from her mother, Adrienne, and Louis, the father figure in her life.
"I was always there to make sure she had what she needed in order to be successful," Louis said. "If it was to drive her somewhere, to take her to piano lessons, I took her. I said 'If this is what you want, I will be there to make sure you get the opportunity to do it.'"
With her family's help, Armani has played for club programs in the last several years, including the Elmwood Park Lady Tigers, an elite team that includes DePaul signee Morgan Maize. Procter's play at the higher levels helped her earn an academic scholarship to Dominican (Ill.) University, an NCAA Division III school.
"I know that I am capable of doing anything now," she said. "I have grown playing softball and I never thought I would be playing at a collegiate level."
Procter looked at multiple colleges, including Division I schools Monmouth and Valparaiso, but quickly liked the Stars and coach Cristina Lukas, who came out to watch her play. The bulk of Dominican's recruits come from suburban areas, but Procter was an exception. Lukas was impressed with Procter's versatility in the field, "pretty swing," and family unit.
"She has an unbelievable support system. It's funny when you see her play, she travels with an entourage," Lukas said with a laugh. "From mom, siblings, grandfather, they are there behind her all the time."
That support system, especially Louis, has never pushed Armani or forced her or her siblings to take on an athletic endeavor. Because of limited opportunities, many inner-city girls play baseball growing up. Procter never played softball until she entered high school.
The Longwood baseball coach asked Louis if Armani would play on the Longwood baseball team. Louis answered with a saying he has used many times during the years: "You'll have to ask Armani." Armani decided to play high school softball because she felt more comfortable playing with girls.
"I always told them, don't do it for me," Louis said, a Longwood assistant softball coach. "The day that you do it for me, let me know, because I want you to do it for yourself. I am not that parent or grandparent that sees myself through them. I want them to enjoy what they are doing."
In little time, she adjusted to softball, a faster-paced sport than baseball. In her freshman year, she helped Longwood to an undefeated record in conference play. The last two seasons, Longwood has bumped up to a higher level of competition and went 11-3 in conference versus the city's top schools.
Procter is left-handed, but her Little League coach had her play all the infield positions. She has been willing and able to play multiple positions in high school, including catcher, first base, second base and the outfield. One time, a coach asked Louis if Armani wanted to catch. Louis again said, "Ask Armani." Armani said yes — and impressed Shenberger with her defense and throwing arm.
Even as a freshman, Procter's experience with baseball allowed her to help Shenberger with many less-experienced players who lacked basic fundamentals, including throwing and gripping the ball and swinging the bat.
In addition, Procter is a two-time all-conference selection who carried a .597 batting average last spring. This year, Longwood is 5-2.
Procter has helped increase softball's popularity in Longwood. This season, for the first time ever, Longwood has a junior varsity softball team.
"I hope to inspire a lot of inner-city kids to play softball and to do something that they like to do," Procter said. "A lot of my teammates come up and ask me for advice. I tell them what to fix it and how to fix it."
Procter has had to overcome several injuries in her high school career, including a broken foot and hamstring injury. When she tried out for Elmwood Park, Procter was still experiencing hamstring problems. Procter believed she wasn't going to make the team because she couldn't run the bases effectively or field naturally.
Still, coach Tony Donato quickly could tell Procter had plenty of talent. She made the squad, has batted in the middle of the lineup and played multiple positions, including a little second base. Procter is the first inner-city pickup by the Tigers and the lone African-American player on the team, but fit right in with the program. Donato called Procter probably the most polite kid on the squad and was impressed with her close-knit family. Often, Louis and Armani have to drive 45 minutes one way to reach practice, but very seldom missed any practices.
"Armani is a great kid," Donato said. "I really can't say enough about her. ... Her and my daughter have become very close."
With the Tigers, Procter impressed at some major tournaments, including collecting at least one hit in every game in a major college exposure tournament in Binghamton, N.Y. last summer. Lukas came out to watch Procter play for the Tigers, a decision that eventually led to Procter signing with Dominican, a rarity for inner-city softball players.
"She is definitely a case where she made it," Lukas said.