Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Keith Jones, professor of psychology, psychology department chair and the Mark and Kay De Cook Endowed Chair in Character and Leadership Development, is adding one more title to his name. He’s Central’s newest assistant softball coach.
Jones has been a youth AAU and USSSA baseball and soccer coach the past 12 years, and coached the grades 9-10 spring baseball squad at Pella High School in 2012. He’s enthused about joining the staff of head coach George Wares and associate head coach Alicia O’Brien. Wares is the winningest coach in NCAA Division III history with a 977-323-3 mark, four national championships and 25 NCAA tourney appearances in 29 seasons. O’Brien’s 615-283-3 (.683) mark includes 18 highly successful seasons as head coach at Western Connecticut State.
“I’m extremely excited to work with students in this context,” Jones said. “Softball is a beautiful game that continually challenges all involved physically, socially and cognitively. The opportunity to work with these coaches and teach the game in a way that is consistent with the college mission is fantastic. In this program, character and leadership are emphasized more than tactics and skills.”
Wares is equally enthused.
“I think there’s a lot of mutual respect,” he said. “Obviously we consider ourselves to be part of a quality athletic program and Keith is a highly regarded member of a quality academic program. He brings a lot to the team.”
Athletics at Central have always been a co-curricular rather than extracurricular activity and combining faculty positions with coaching is certainly not unprecedented. Many Central coaches have teaching responsibilities. The Dutch staff now includes Russell Goodman, associate professor of mathematics, who is an assistant women’s soccer coach, and Stephen Fyfe, professor of computer science, who is associate head men’s and women’s cross country coach as well as assistant men’s and women’s track and field coach.
“Some people may scratch their heads about having a faculty member on the coaching staff, but to me the softball field is just another classroom,” Jones said. “Athletics and academics at Central aren’t on separate islands. Coaches focus on the development of students, which is very consistent with what we’re doing as faculty. It’s great to be a part of those efforts in multiple roles.”
Wares said Jones is an effective coach as well.
“It’s not like we’re doing this just so we can say we have a faculty member on our staff,” he said. “He knows a lot about the game and certainly his psychology background is a big help, since that’s an area we emphasize.
“He gives us a different set of eyes and a new way of looking at things, and provides a different voice for the players. There are some players he’s had in class, so he already has a relationship established with them.
“He’s been a fan of the team in the past and now that he’s a part of it, you can tell he’s very eager to learn more about the game.”
The Dutch, who are wrapping up their fall practices, begin spring preseason drills Feb. 1 and open the 2014 campaign March 14 at the Tucson (Ariz.) Invitational Games. Central is coming off a 32-10 campaign in which they made their 25th NCAA Division III tournament appearance and reached the national finals, tying for seventh.