SOFTBALL

After 10 years and a state title G-A softball's Richardson steps down

JOYCE F. NOWELL, Echo Pilot
Jamie Richardson guided the G-AHS softball team to numerous titles, including a state championship in 2009. He is leaving the head coaching post after 10 years.

Jamie Richardson has nurtured the Greencastle-Antrim softball program like a parent for the past decade. Only his actual children could lure him from that passion. So it was bittersweet that Richardson recently resigned from his 10 year tenure that saw the Blue Devils through multiple titles and the ultimate crown of a state championship in 2009. Joe, 6, and Lauren, 4, and their mom will be glad to have dad back in the spring.

“It’s sad leaving because it feels like a child to me,” Richardson said from his Mechanicsburg home. “You feel attachment so it is really hard to leave. But I feel really good about what we’ve done and accomplished.”

Indeed. Eight straight division titles, the inaugural Mid-Penn Conference Championship, two district titles, three district finals, four state appearances and the state championship in 2009. The crown remains one of only five team state titles for the school in any sport.

Despite reached that ultimate level, it’s the connection with the players that Richardson will take with him, “I’ve had awesome student athletes to coach. The relationships we’ve built through softball are still going on after they’ve left the program. I feel like I still have great relationships with those players.”

Richardson, a Chambersburg native who played college basketball at Shippensburg University and recreational fast-pitch softball with a men’s team that won a state title, was thirsty to head up a softball program after assisting at Shippensburg where he was a middle school teacher. He gave a five-year commitment.

He explained, “You have to give that much time to really build a program. I wanted the opportunity to run my own program. There was motivation.”

Richardson knew you had to play good teams to get better and added perennial big-school power Chambersburg to the schedule in 2004. The Blue Devils won that first game and split the series in the first four years. It was all up hill from there.

“I really felt that if we worked hard and believed in what we’re doing there’s no reason why it can’t be us,” Richardson said of his decision to go head-to-head with the Trojans. “I really believed in playing the toughest competition because that would make us better. I liked that challenge. And I loved how our student athletes responded.”

Greencastle-Antrim quickly became dominant in the sport, but hit a few stubborn walls along the way.

“We were snakebitten for years,” the coach recalled. “We lost heartbreakers all the way up to about 2008. I remember about three years in a row where we lost tough games to eventual state champions. I remember losing to Donegal in that nine inning game in 2006 and they ended up winning the state title. That was another game where we were right there. Who knows? It could have been us.

“So I would bounce back and say we can build from this and get better from this. It was a tough time.”

Eventually Richardson and his charges learned that it was all part of the process.

He said, “I enjoyed the climb to the mountain top; every year getting to the next level or trying to get to the next level.

“It’s the things we did the first couple of years that I was there. It’s all the athletes that were there. I look at that 2009 state championship as being a culmination of all the athletes I’ve had from the year I started up to that year. I really feel that even the players who graduated before that state title were part of that state title.”

Richardson said that getting over that hump of finally getting to the state tournament was the biggest challenge, but it led to that first district championship in 2008. “Over the 2005 to the 2007 seasons it was just heartbreaking to lose those tough games for those players who helped build our program. I was just so sad for them to be so close. It did serve a purpose for the returning players and the reality of what they needed to do to get to the next level.”

The coach contended that you have to be good and a little lucky to got the gold. “We were good and we caught a break or two and that’s why we won in 2009.”

Since then G-A has stayed in the thick of things. Richardson wasn’t about to let up on the pedal.

“Winning that state title I can still remember saying to the teams after that: the bar has been set, the expectation is clear, we have to win division titles, we have to do well in districts, we have to compete and have a chance to win a state championship.

“Sometimes I put pressure on the last several years because the expectation was so high that you could have a great year and get to the second round of states and lose and feel like it was a failure. And it really wasn’t.”

One early battle that Richardson had to win in building the program was being in a community where fast-pitch wasn’t the recreational priority. Just a handful of girls were fulltime fast-pitch players and they had to go to nearby towns to do it.

“Slow pitch was so big that fast pitch hadn’t turned the corner,” he recalled.

“I was blessed with some great athletes to help us make that turn. With Kris Root’s class (2006) and Sarah Signore’s class (2007) I think the community realized that we could turn a corner with fast pitch. I think it snowballed after that.

“I remember after the 2004 season talking with the players that everyone needed to play travel ball; that we needed to start taking this to the next level. Those players bought into it and so many of them started playing travel ball. We are to the point that every varsity ball player is playing travel ball.”

Richardson hasn’t ruled out coming back to G-A to coach, but his concentration now is with his children. He does however have huge expectations that the program will keep rolling and he expects big things.

“I still have a passion and I love it,” Richardson said. “This was a tough decision. I love the program. It’s a great program. The kids are awesome.

“The best part of the whole 10 years was truly the relationships built with the players. I wouldn’t give back those relationships and everything I’ve built with the players for anything.”