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25 April 2008
JSU Coach Gets Milestone Win

By Lori Tippets
News Sports Correspondent

Dr. William Meehan, Jacksonville State University President, presents Jana McGinnis with a plaque and a signed batting helmet. Photo: Alan Tippets

Reprinted here in its entirety.

If it wasn’t for all the hype created by the media, Jana McGinnis, head coach of the Jacksonville State University softball team, might not ever have known she was close to her 500th win.

The win, which came last week with a 7-6 extra-innings victory over Kennesaw State, made McGinnis only the second coach in JSU history to go over the 500-win mark. The other coach was baseball’s Rudy Abbott.

McGinnis says she will remember two milestones, reaching her 300th win and then her 500th. “I actually didn’t know that we were getting close to the 300th,” recalls McGinnis. “I remember the win though because Tera Ross (a JSU pitcher who was tragically killed driving home to Florida for winter break) pitched that game. It’s embedded in my mind and is a special game. We played San Jose State and it was one of the best games she (Tera) had ever played. After the game, the team and parents presented me with the game ball. That was special.”

The 500th win will also be deeply embedded in the coach’s mind.

“This one I know I will remember because there was a lot of hype and build-up. I tried not to think about it myself, but the closer we got the more I heard about it,” she said.

“The game itself I’ll remember because it was a wild game, a game we were winning 6-0 with two outs to go and we had to go into extra innings. It’s a game I would kind-of-like to forget. I’ve never experienced being up 6-0 with just two outs to go and had to come back. I’m proud of my girls for fighting back.”

McGinnis insists that it isn’t the numbers that she has put up that are important to her, and it doesn’t take one long to be around the humble coach to know that for her, coaching is all about the players, not personal gain and glory.

Even with her 500th win, McGinnis’ first thoughts were about her players. “I sure hope there was no pressure on them. I kept telling them it wasn’t a big deal.” McGinnis paused for a moment to add, “It is a big deal now. I will look back and say, ‘That was nice, and I appreciate the way the university honored it and the way the girls’ did. That’s what I’ll remember.”

McGinnis began her JSU coaching career 15 years ago, at the very tender age of 23. She laughs when she remembers how young she was. “I was only one and one-half to two years older than most of my team, and one player was two years older than I was!”

Though young in years, McGinnis brought with her talent, enthusiasm, hard work ethic and the example and philosophy of other coaches she had met along the way.

Coach McGinnis and her twin sister Dana, both played basketball for JSU, and set the standard for years to come. The Bright twins were named All Gulf South Conference and Jana still holds the record for assists, with Dana holding the scoring record. Both sisters have had their uniform numbers retired.

While at JSU Jana recalls that she was influenced by some very good coaches like Bill Burgess, Bill Jones, Rudy Abbott and Janice Slay. “They all had little things that influenced us and made a difference.”

It was also while an undergraduate that McGinnis got her first taste of JSU softball, though as an observer, not a player. In 1988, during the spring of their freshman years, the Bright twins would go out and support the softball team, a non-scholarship team made up of athletes from other teams and sorority girls. The Brights couldn’t play because of basketball, not because they were lacking in softball abilities.

At the age of 12 both girls played on a woman’s “A” class traveling team, playing with women who were in their 20’s. During the first year both girls played in the outfield on the slow-pitch team, then the next year Jana was moved to shortstop.

Jana admits that she has always loved softball, and proclaims herself to be a baseball nut. Softball was a game that the sisters could play as a hobby, something to relieve the stress of basketball where all eyes were always on them.

It wasn’t unusual then that after Jana had graduated and served one year as an assistant coach to Tony Mabry, and then had moved on to Cherokee County High School where her basketball team won the state championship, that she jumped at the chance to come back to JSU as the head softball coach 15 years ago.

With the softball program being so young, McGinnis had the opportunity to build it from the ground up. She kept only three players from her first year’s squad, losing many to graduation. “I was lucky,” says McGinnis, “because the girls wanted a good program. I remember telling the team at the end of the year that we had only won 16 games but that they would be the foundation. They would be the pillars that the program would be built on.”

McGinnis remembers that it was a struggle for her because she had to learn fast pitch, going to clinics and learning the game from the bottom up. McGinnis laughs when she remembers that a player asked her, “Coach, how are we going to run the international tie-breaker.” “I didn’t know what they were taking about,” laughs McGinnis.

McGinnis signed virtually her whole first team, and landed two great ones in Ann Shelton and Wendy McKibbin. “They were my nucleus; from there we developed good athletes.”

Though she doesn’t like to talk about numbers, there are glowing numbers in the books that declare the JSU softball program that McGinnis has developed a great success. With the 500 wins has come one OVC championship in 2005, and with it Coach of the Year honors for McGinnis, to go along with an Atlantic Sun Tournament title and western division titles in 1996 and 1997.

The Gamecocks are currently at the top of the OVC standings with a 3 ˝ game lead with just six games left. In the latest statistics by the NCAA, the team is third in the nation in home runs per game.

While winning is definitely important and McGinnis is a competitor, there are things more important to the coach.

“The reason I got into coaching was for moments like Sunday when they invited all the alumni back. It was nice to have the players come back and give me a hug and tell me that (softball) was the best time of their lives,” she said. “It was nice to have them tell me thanks. It is good to see them grow into successful career people and most importantly they are great moms and great wives. That is why I got into coaching. I hope I was a small part of their lives. I hope that some of them can say, ‘Coach McGinnis said this and helped me make a right decision.’

“I want my players to keep softball in perspective. This is not a life or death situation. I tell them that softball is something you have been blessed to play; it’s not the most important thing you are going to do in your life.

“Some college coaches can get too absorbed. My perspective is this job is not No. 1 on my list. My faith in God and my family are first. This job is just something I’ve been blessed with.”

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