By Alexe van Beuren
At eleven-thirty in the morning, Shane Brown meets me at Turnage’s Drugstore to talk about softball. It’s a subject I know next to nothing of, but luckily for me, Shane has a lot of patience. It’s a quality that serves him well: in his personal life, as the father of a toddler; and in his professional life, as a bus driver, elementary-school P.E. teacher, and new high school girls’ fast-pitch softball coach.
Brown, who has worked at the Water Valley Elementary School for the past four years, is the the only P.E. teacher for the 750 prekindergartens to sixth-graders.
“It’s a fun job,” he tells me. It’s a good thing he likes it – Brown teaches 34 classes a week, but because of schedule restrictions and space limitations, he sees each student only once a week for a thirty-minute period. In the coming school year, P.E. classes will be increased to forty-five minutes due to a new law; “I’ll be interested in seeing that schedule,” Brown says with a smile, but he doesn’t seem too worried.
Brown brings his mellow but structured attitude to his new coaching job as well. As sports fans know, the fledgling fast-pitch softball program at Water Valley High School just completed a winning season, finishing in May of this year with a 13-7 record and making the playoffs for the first time in the school’s history, as well as sharing the district championship with Winona – all under the guidance of Brown in his first year of coaching softball.
“I like the speed of softball,” Brown tells me. Though his previous coaching experience has been with male sports such as football, Brown appreciates female athletes.“They’re smarter than boys,” he says. “And they listen. I haven’t had many problems at all.”
From January until mid-May, Brown works his team in practices that tend to be short and well-run, lasting an hour-and-a-half to two hours. This year, his team had twenty games, but Brown says that that number will increase next spring because he plans to play in more tournaments. “I want to go farther than we did,” he says. “I want to get better and better.”
According to Brown, the thing his team does best is getting on base. “I tell them to get on base anyway they can,” Brown says.
“Once we’re on base, it’s easy to score.” The thing his team needs to improve? “Mental focus,” he says. “Sometimes, if we get down, we stay down.”
This year, Brown chose from a group of thirty-two girls, ending up with sixteen to begin the season and four who came in mid-season after basketball had finished. His line-up included a seventh-grader and several eighth-graders. “I kept a young team,” Brown says, “because I want to build a program in Water Valley.”
His long-term goal didn’t sway the Board of Aldermen when it came to the softball team’s appeal to the City for a dedicated field.
For the last few years, the softball team has practiced at Crawford Sports Complex. Renting the field means that practices have to be scheduled in accordance with availability, as well as housekeeping matters like hauling equipment there and back.
Members of the softball team’s Booster Club (who tend to be the players’ parents) went before the City and asked permission to work on the field directly across from the Piggly Wiggly, which is City property. “We didn’t ask the City for anything but light bulbs,” Brown said. “They said no.”
When I ask why, Brown shrugs. “They said no because in four years’ time, these girls would graduate and be gone,” says Brown, adding that the city may have reservations about the initiative of future booster clubs’ members.
Water Valley High School has had a softball team for the past five years.
Still, the City’s lack of support might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The softball team is now trying to find a home at the high school itself. “We’re meeting this Thursday,” Brown says, so that he and others will assess the old track field as a possible location. It will require more work than the City’s field, but Brown says being at the high school, where players can walk to practice instead of catching rides, will be a boon for his team.
“I really believe in these girls,” Brown tells me. “If they stick together, we’ll be state champions.”