There’s hitting the ground running and adjusting on the fly, and then there’s Tim Coker’s situation as the new head softball coach at Bethlehem Christian Academy.
Coker, whose team is scheduled to begin its season Tuesday, Aug. 18, at Brentwood in Sandersville, has only been on the job for three weeks and said Monday he wasn’t sure as recently as “a week and a half ago” whether there would be enough players for the Knights to field a team this fall. But through the recruiting help of his three returning seniors, the Knights will begin the year with 13 players and are going straight into the fire with only a few practices under their belts.
“We’ve had to scramble because so many kids didn’t know if we were going to have a team,” Coker said. “We’re going to just try to build our numbers up down through the middle school and get to where we can consistently have a JV program. We’ve got some talent this year so I’m expecting us to be competitive and show improvement throughout the year. We may come out of the gate rolling. I just don’t know until we see this group in game action.”
After a hiatus of several years, BCA brought back its softball program in 2018 at the GICAA level, and the Knights made the state semifinals that spring and then won a state title in the spring of 2019 — before moving to GISA last fall when the Knights won a region championship before falling in the state quarterfinals.
But when Michael Clarke, who led the team for those three seasons, stepped down earlier this year, the program spent several months without a head coach in place. Coker has never coached in a high school varsity setting but has 12 years’ experience coaching his daughters in travel ball. A lifelong Walton County resident who attends Bethlehem Church next to BCA, Coker was mentioned by other parents as a possibility and was contacted by former BCA athletic director Gus Felder. But then, Felder took a strength and conditioning coaching position with the Carolina Panthers, the coronavirus pandemic took hold, and months went by before new BCA athletic director Tim Early, who was hired earlier this summer, reached out and offered Coker the job.
“I had kind of retired (from coaching) and been out of it for five years, but I’m good friends and grew up with one of the seniors’ parents and I didn’t want to see these seniors miss out on their senior season,” Coker said. “I’m diving head-first into it, but I’m excited about starting the season. I know we’ve got talent and the girls are going to play hard.”
While the Knights lost a couple of key players in center fielder Taylor Buckner, who graduated and signed with Piedmont College, and catcher Lindzie Owen, who is not with the team for her senior season, they do return several who have had a hand in the team’s success the last three seasons.
Senior Clancy Bourbeau returns in the circle, and Coker is hoping Mary Lyndsey Wyatt and others will help provide the team with more pitching depth. Outfielder Anna Foil and second baseman-outfielder Brooke Peevy are the other two seniors, while sophomore shortstop Hannah Still and junior corner infielder Mycah Baker are among the other key returners.
“I’m a guy that always thinks we’re behind the 8-ball, and other teams have had a summer full of workouts, whereas we haven’t,” Coker said. “But we’ll rely heavily on the leadership of those returning players. This team is capable of making the playoffs, but we’re still learning each other and our goal is to be playing our best softball at the end of the year.
“I bring a travel-ball mentality and am going to be trying to push every ounce out of them. I think there’s more in them than they give themselves credit for.”
And at the same time, with only 13 players on the roster, Coker is reminding his team to stay safe and diligent amid the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
“Every coach in the state has the same concern about what could happen if you have two or three key players have to quarantine,” he said. “We’re just trying to manage the situation and are doing and following some things to try to keep our exposure to a minimum. But it’s still a concern because if another kid in a biology class comes down with it, that means the players in that class have to quarantine for two weeks.
“So we’re tremendously worried about that.”