Softball coach Jones bids bittersweet farewell to Eagles
After leading the South Putnam softball team to two consecutive state championships, an overall record of 116-12 and making a ton of friends along the way, head coach Chris Jones is saying goodbye.
Jones was hired as Rising Sun High School's boys varsity basketball coach on May 13, thus ending his reign as the Eagles' softball coach. While he has enjoyed great success on the softball field, Jones acknowledged his dream has been to coach varsity basketball.
"Basketball has always been my first love," he confessed. "I have wanted to be a head varsity basketball coach ever since I was in high school. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get head coaching experience with softball. I truly learned to love coaching it and not just because of the success we had, but because of how great the girls were to coach."
Jones told his team about the move on May 13 just before practice. It might be a move he's been hoping for since high school, but that fact didn't make breaking the news to his squad any easier.
"It was a very difficult talk for me to have but those girls mean a lot to me and I didn't want them to hear from anyone else," he said. "I wanted them to hear from me that I was leaving and what I was doing and why."
Jones said his senior crew took the news well, as he expected, but was worried how his group of juniors would react since he would not be there to close out their high school careers.
He thought they would take it the hardest and got the reaction he expected.
"I was correct, they were very understanding and supportive of my decision, but it hurt them the most," Jones said. "Overall, as a group, they were supportive and happy for me because it has always been a dream of mine."
Jones also spoke about leaving the Eagles' home field for the final time. As with all great coaches, he didn't think the loss against Terre Haute North on May 16 would be the last time he took his home field as head coach.
"Looking back on it now, I thought we would have the chance to host a regional game and be back on the field another time," he said. "It didn't work out that way so I was not as emotional as I might have been if it was guaranteed to be our last game at home. I knew that it was a possibility it was our last game, but I am a positive guy so I believed we would be back."
No one is a success if they don't have a positive force behind them. For Jones, that force is his family and when the chance came for him to pursue his dream, they were nothing but positive about his decision.
"They are extremely happy for me and have already starting making plans to find the quickest way to get to Rising Sun. I would not have taken the job at Rising Sun if my family had not been 100 percent supportive of the decision."
Turning his attention to his basketball coaching career, Jones said he will take things from every coach he's been able to work with. In addition to coaching softball, he has been an assistant boys' basketball coach at South Putnam for the past few years.
He said defense will be a staple of his squad as well as dedication to the weight room.
He also said a key to building a successful program is making sure your support staff is up to the challenge.
"I have also learned that as a coach you need to surround yourself with quality people/coaches and that good relationships lead to loyalty and loyalty is a must between coaches," he said.
Jones will make the move to southeastern Indiana by June 10 when summer workouts begin and he'll have his work cut out for him. The Shiners haven't enjoyed a winning season since 2002-03 season and are coming off a 2-19 year.
However, Jones said he will implement the things that helped shape South Putnam's softball program into a state powerhouse the past several years.
"Defense, communication, hard work and believing in yourself are all things in which I will instill into the program," he said. "Also, the understanding that lifting, agility, and conditioning are essential to building a championship team. Obviously the fundamentals of the game are something that we will constantly work on as well."
It's not everyday that a five-year coach can to think about his legacy with a program. But with two state championships under his belt and 116 career wins, Jones will forever be linked to South Putnam softball.
When he spoke about what he hopes people remember of his time at South Putnam, there was never a mention of his wins or his championships, but instead he focused how his teams played and how the players were viewed by their contemporaries.
"That my teams played the game hard, played it the right way, played with class and represented both South Putnam and Putnam County in a very positive way," he said. "As a coach, I hope people saw me as a class act. Someone who truly cared for his players and wanted nothing but the best for them, a very positive coach and someone who both South Putnam and Putnam County could say they were proud to have as their coach and representing them."
Asked if he would entertain returning to softball in the future, Jones said his focus in on his upcoming hoops season, but didn't close the door completely.
"Definitely not this first year, but I guess it is always a possibility," he said. "Like I said earlier, I have grown to love the game of softball and that is a testament to the girls I have been fortunate to have coach over the past six years."
Jones also thanked the South Putnam administration, school board, teachers, staff and student for the their support and for making the decision to leave such a difficult one.
"It has truly been an honor of mine to have worked at South," he said. "I also want to specifically thank all the athletes, especially the softball players that I have had the honor to have coached while I have been at South Putnam.
"I have built life long bonds with many of them and they will always hold a special place in my heart."