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
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
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
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
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
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,”
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
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
“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.”
See story at The Jacksonville News's website: www.jaxnews.com