Writer Halei Lamb, who has played and coached softball in her native Georgia (she then was Halei Scarboro), looks back on her time at Johnson County High School in Wrightsville, Georgia competing for--and disagreeing with-- her then-varsity coach, Chuck Beale, and shares some thoughts (and regrets) she wishes to impart to today’s athletes on quitting and sticking out the tough times...
The 2019 road to the Women’s College World Series has begun and, as always, I can’t wait to see how the journey goes!
I follow the sport year-round and I love seeing various headlines during the offseason, but nothing compares to seeing the best teams in the country grind it out until June to get to USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
The mere thought of walk-offs, double plays, diving and scale-the-wall catches, and other jaw-dropping, do-whatever-it-takes-to-win plays just send my senses into overdrive. I guess it’s true what they say—the love of the game never leaves you.
While I could easily dedicate an entire column to the multitude of changes that have transpired in the sport over the course of the last eight months, I’ll just say this… If I had to describe college softball’s most recent offseason in a few words, I’d call it the “era of change.”
A plethora of universities hired new coaches, and an even higher number of transfers occurred.
Most notably, perhaps, was the University of Texas scoring Mike White, who, before June of last year, led the Oregon Ducks.
Cue Oregon’s hiring of Melyssa Lombardi, the long-time Oklahoma assistant who was a part of multiple National Championships under the leadership of Patty Gasso.
Also, in June 2018, the NCAA’s Division I Council proposed a new rule that would give student-athletes the opportunity to transfer and receive a scholarship without requesting permission from his or her current school.
With the new rule, these student-athletes are required to inform their institution of their desire to transfer and enter their name into a national transfer database (also commonly referred to as the transfer portal) within two business days. After that, coaches are free to contact the athletes on the list.
The proposal went into effect in October 2018 and since White departed from Eugene, a whopping nine Oregon Duck players have followed suit and dozens of other high-profile transfers have occurred across the country.
Combine the launch of the transfer portal with a coaching change and it seems like it’s easy—almost too easy—for athletes to pick up and go elsewhere.
Daggumit, I wonder, what happened to toughing it out?!? I acknowledge that change can be difficult, but difficult doesn’t always equate to bad.
Most importantly, in reference to this column, I also know that every student-athlete should do what’s best for him or her, but that doesn’t always mean that what’s best should be easy. Sometimes we need to learn life’s lessons the hard way.
The best coach I ever had was, to be frank, the hardest I ever had. Chuck Beale, in my high school opinion at the time, was downright mean and had it out for me. I dreaded practice every day. What kid wants to be yelled at, worked like a dog four days a week for two hours a day in 100-degree heat, and still not be good enough?
It wasn’t fun. I thought he killed my passion for the game. Later in life, I realized I was wrong. Daggumit!
Eventually, I ended up transferring schools and I played my last season at Swainsboro High School. I absolutely loved it. I felt like a leader, like I had finally found my niche on a team. I worked my butt off for the Lady Tigers softball program in the weight room and on the field; I pitched every single inning of that season. I even landed myself a scholarship to Andrew College after our season was over.
I loved playing in the Black and Gold and I have zero regrets about suiting up for Swainsboro. But let me be clear—I do have regrets about quitting on Coach Beale.
Had I stayed at Johnson County and weathered the storm, I would’ve been a better player. About this I have no doubt.
He tested my limits and worked me harder than any of my other coaches ever did, college included. That hate I thought he was spewing? It was tough love.
I think he saw my potential or at least wanted to see what he could make of me. I was just too soft. The climate I thought was terrible? It was simply a winning atmosphere.
He demanded greatness from every single player who stepped on his diamond, and he usually got it. Unless you were like me and you quit on him.
If he embarrassed you during practice, it was to ensure that you didn’t embarrass yourself or the team during a game. If he made you run five foul poles for a simple mistake, there's a good chance he was trying to teach a greater lesson.
The list of ways in which Chuck Beale was “too hard” on me, in my high school opinion, was infinite. I couldn’t take it back then. He hurt my feelings too many times, and I quit on him before he could make me great.
Since I tucked my glove away in a closet and put my cleats away for good, I’ve obviously done more watching than playing. I’ve been in the coach’s box before. I’ve sat in the stands and watched. Softball is changing. No, let me be more accurate… It has already changed and is continuing to do so.
That change started with kids like me who quit on their coaches. For a long time, I was ashamed to admit that I quit on a good coach. As an adult, though, I now understand that it’s the right thing to do for myself, for the coach’s integrity and reputation, and for the athletic welfare of the ones who come behind me.
You wanna talk vulnerability? I’m your girl, but daggumit, it’s hard to make these kinds of admissions…
Softball has taught me so much through the years—the value of hard work, the importance of doing things right, accountability, commitment, perseverance, and tenacity, just to name a few. I can’t say I learned all of these things on Coach Beale’s watch exclusively because I, unfortunately, didn’t stick around long enough.
Looking back on my two years with him, however, I see that I did learn these things from him. I only wish I had recognized it and somehow found a way to embrace the tough manner in which he instilled these personality traits and possibly learned more of them in the process.
Regret is a hard thing to live with, kids... Daggumit.
I can’t imagine what kind of player I would’ve been had I stuck it out, but I do know this: he made me a better person. All of my coaches through the years have, to some degree, molded me… But when I think about how the game of softball developed me into the woman I am today, Coach Beale and my two years on his roster are the first to come to mind.
When my back is against the wall and it’s the bottom of the seventh inning, I dig deep and find a way to get an out. When times get hard and life has got me out, I get back up, dust myself off, and try again. I know how to win with humility. I owe a lot of my success after I left his program and probably equally as much of who I am as a person to Coach Beale.
Dagummit, he was good…
So to the kids who are lucky enough to still have the chance to be molded into greatness by a tough coach, don’t run from it. Embrace the challenge. Bow up. Rise to the occasion.
And if you’re one of the truly lucky ones who still has a shot at playing for the Chuck Beale (or any other coach like him), don’t take offense to his umpteenth exclamation of “Daggumit!” Welcome it with open ears and a teachable mind.
Stick it out. You’ll thank him later.
About the Author
Halei Scarboro Lamb is the Managing Editor for The-Forest Blade, a weekly publication covering news in Emanual County, Georgia, and has experience in softball both as a player and coach.
She attended Johnson County High School in Wrightsville, Georgia where she was a pitcher on the school’s first team to ever make the Elite 8 in the state playoffs before graduating from Swainsboro High in 2011. She also competed for the Lady Dominators travel ball team and played one year at Andrew College on an athletic scholarship during the 2011-12 season.
The native Georgian served as an assistant coach at David Emanuel Academy (Stillmore, Georgia) in 2013 and 2014 under Allen Jordan and helped lead the 2014 team to the school’s first state championship appearance (the Eagles would ultimately finish 2nd).
Halei has been a journalist for four years and has been involved in writing, editing and layout/design. Last year she completed her degree at USC Media Law School.
Married to Chris Lamb for six years, she is passionate about softball and frequently writes on topics in the sport; an earlier version of this article originally appeared in the January 30, 2019 edition of The-Forest Blade.