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From book to coach

Do you know how to keep a scorebook?

The question seemed simple enough to me.

Sure, I knew how to keep a scorebook. It was a fairly easy task for someone who grew up in and around baseball and softball.

What I didn’t know is simply agreeing to keep a scorebook at a recreation league game would end up costing me the next six summers.

Any recreation league coach knows exactly what I mean by that. It isn’t a bad thing, but the summers depart quickly when you spend two or three nights a week playing games and another practicing.

Let me go back to the beginning. Jackie Copeland (Williford at the time) was coaching recreation league softball in those days. She had been doing it for a couple of years and needed someone to help with the scorebook one night.

I agreed to keep score, thinking it would be a one-time thing and not minding at all helping out a friend. Little did I know that I would still be in that same dugout long after Jackie had stepped away from the league.

I learned a great deal from her in the three seasons we coached together. We still make a pretty formidable team whenever we are in the same dugout. If you’ve never coached under Jackie or someone with her fire and passion, you’ve never been an assistant coach.

In that first year we won the league championship. Ditto the second.

After Jackie and her mother, Edith Williford, who also coach the squad, stepped away I took over as the head coach. A decision that was sometimes wonderful and sometimes the most painful that I ever reached in sports.

I learned two things in the three seasons that I served as a head softball coach in a recreation league. The first is that it is a harder job than most believe. The second is that I make a much better assistant coach than head coach.

During those three years I coached some of the youngest teams that were probably ever assembled in the age group.

My first season as the head coach in a 14 to 18-year-old girls softball league, my team was comprised of one 18-year-old, two 16-year-olds and everyone else was 14 or 15.

We got killed – often. I will never forget the fact that they turned off the scoreboard in our first game because we got beat so badly. Despite that fact, we won our last game of the year – not bad for a bunch of youngins with a rookie coach.

We were so inexperienced that I moved a player to shortstop that had never played the position. Her name was Nichole Todd and she has since left us after a car accident.

One of the most fun moments I had in coaching came when I had to explain to Nichole that she did nothing wrong to be moved to shortstop from first base. Despite the fact that I was moving her to the toughest position on the field, she thought she was being demoted because she had always played first.

It was people like Nichole that made coaching a lot of fun. Watching kids grow and learn was far more important than the actual game for me.

On and off the field, Amy Mizell was the best player I ever coached in softball. She was the most hardheaded player I have ever seen, but she would do anything it took to win. That made coaching her a joy.

Speaking of hardheaded, I would never be able to discuss that subject without talking about Jamie Gray. She played third base for me when she could barely walk because of an ankle injury. She would not come off the field because she loved the game that much.

There were bunches of others who passed through that dugout over seven years and I enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them. They are the part of the game I miss.

What I don’t miss is the time commitment and the pressure from parents and others who don’t make the game a lot of fun.

I know what it is to coach recreation league ball and for that reason I respect those who do it. I can’t imagine the dedication of people who have spent 20 years in it. They are good people and they should be appreciated for what they do.

Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? All are welcome. You can reach me at thadd.white@r-cnews.com or call me at 332-7211.

Be careful out there and be good sports.