The softball season is under way, and for most of the teams it’s business as usual. It may be a new year, but not much has changed in regards to who is running the program.
For five teams in the Bi-City area, however, they are breaking in new coaches. Some, like Chattahoochee’s Ken Mapp are lifelong coaches. Others, like Spencer’s Kyndall Schaaf, are getting their first taste.
Here’s a look at each of the five new coaches and what they hope to accomplish in their respective jobs.
Heather Wilkinson, Pacelli
Wilkinson replaces Lonny Arrington, who had been involved in softball and baseball at the school for a number of years. She has coached softball for three years, two of which were spent as a junior varsity and assistant varsity coach in Ramstein, Germany.
Wilkinson played softball for about 12 years, she said, in slow pitch, but did not play in high school, electing instead to swim and run track. She did play for a community softball team throughout high school, however.
In her time with Pacelli, she said she hopes the team can develop solid fundamentals and be able to compete in the region and, as a result, the playoffs. She has helped the players set goals for themselves and the team.
“We keep (those) written in the locker room as inspiration for the season,” she said.
Kyndal Schaaf, Spencer
Schaaf is in her first year as a softball coach. She has coached soccer in the past, and only recently graduated from Armstrong Atlantic State University. She played soccer at the university for five years under Eric Faulconer and softball for two years.
Before coming to Columbus, she was coaching soccer full-time in Savannah. In high school, she was a three-sport athlete at Shaw, playing softball, basketball and soccer.
At Spencer this season, she said she would like to have a winning season and make the playoffs.
“I get satisfaction when I see my kids succeed and improve,” she said, adding her desire to instill traits like discipline, character and leadership. “My girls have been working hard, and we are all excited about the upcoming season.”
Nate McConnell, Brookstone
McConnell replaces Debbie Ball, a fixture in Columbus high school athletics for years. He was an assistant varsity softball coach under Ball for two years before taking over the head coaching job earlier this year.
He has also been an assistant varsity baseball coach for six years under Vince Massey.
McConnell played baseball at Shaw and was a member of the 2001 state championship baseball team. He went on to play four years of college baseball, two at CVCC and two at AUM.
He said his goal in his first season as the head coach is to teach the girls that they can only get out what they put in, in life or in softball.
Brandon Jenkins, Northside
Jenkins took over the job vacated by David Smart, who remains the Patriots’ baseball coach. Jenkins had been an assistant baseball coach under Smart for three years and planned on joining Smart’s softball staff as well.
Jenkins said Smart stepped down to be able to see his daughter compete in volleyball, however, and the job was a perfect fit.
Jenkins’ dad, Murphy Jenkins, was a high school coach, as well, spending time at Columbus and Kendrick over the course of his 30 years coaching.
Jenkins played baseball for Columbus under Bobby Howard, graduated in 1998 with two state championship rings and played one season at CVCC.
He said he has high expectations for the team this year.
“I think you have to aim high to be competitive at this level,” he said.
Ken Mapp, Chattahoochee County
Mapp is a lifelong coach, who spent time coaching slow pitch in Alabama before his 13 years at Callaway, where his teams made the playoffs in seven out of eight seasons. He is a member of the Alabama Amateur Softball Hall of Fame and was an assistant coach under Lindi Wright Chattahoochee County’s first varsity season last year.
He said the program has gained a lot of players this year, though it returns only five from last year. He will have to add a junior varsity program, however, which is great for the growth of the program.
At 65 years old, he said he still loves the game and loves to see it played the correct way.
His hope is that he can help the girls who came out for the team to learn and progress constantly, eventually being able to compete on a game-to-game basis.
“We play 15 games this year,” he said. “We only played nine last year. I won’t predict if we can win a game or not, but I know we’re going to get better.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports