PORTSMOUTH — The rich tradition of the Clay High School softball program has seen just six coaches in its’ 45 year history.
The sixth, 10-year head coach Jason Gearheart, informed the Clay Local School District of his decision to step down from his position earlier this year following 12 years with the program.
It wasn’t an easy decision, he says, but one for Gearheart and his family’s benefit.
“Stepping down from the program was not an easy decision,” Gearheart said. “I went back and forth on it for months. Ultimately, I decided to end my career due to a couple of different reasons. The first reason being my knees. I recently had surgery on both and arthritis continues to cause a lot of pain. I like to pitch batting practice to the team, and I don’t think I would be able to keep that up or be able to physically coach like I always have done. The second reason is being available to spend more time with my family and working on our “bucket list”. For the past 24 years, we haven’t missed a softball season. Many of our vacations have been centered around travel ball tournaments. So, it is probably about time for a break.”
During Gearheart’s tenure as the head coach, the Lady Panthers won five Southern Ohio Conference Division I championships, nine sectional titles in 10 seasons, and back-to-back district championships in the 2017-18 seasons.
In that time, Clay softball compiled a 202-63 record which is among the best in Southern Ohio.
“Many of the players I have coached have earned an All-State honor. I feel extremely lucky to have been their coach. I am sure that I have learned as many lessons from the players, if not more, than I was able to provide for them,” Gearheart said. “My favorite part of coaching was to individually instruct and give lessons during the off season. One of the main reasons for the team’s accomplishments was the girls’ devotion to the game. I also really appreciate the support from the other coaches in the SOC and District. I have had many great softball discussions with my peers. I have to thank them too for voting me as Coach of the Year in the SOC 7 times and 4 times in the District. During this time, I was able to coach 2 of my daughters, Marissa Messer and Jacy Gearheart. My oldest daughter, Mandy Messer, was an assistant coach for one year and my wife, Cindy, has been right there with me the whole time as either an assistant coach or score keeper. It’s because of my daughters and my wife that I became involved with softball and I have really enjoyed the past 24 softball seasons, whether I was watching them play or coaching.”
With 265 games as a head coach under your belt, there will surely be memories or moments that stand out.
From the monotony of the every day routine practice, to some of Gearheart’s teams biggest and most memorable postseason wins.
“One of those was against Whiteoak in 2014 in the sectional championship. We won by one run. In the last inning, Whiteoak had the bases loaded, and our third baseman, Alisha Shepherd “Mo”, threw the ball home to Jessica Moore, who caught the ball while managing to keep her toe on the corner of the plate, to win the game. It was a great win,” Gearheart said. “The year before, we won a game in the district tournament at Minford. During that game, we were able to successfully score a runner, my daughter Marissa, on a bunt squeeze play. The opposing team’s crowd went crazy. It was something else. We have had some really fun practices, where we have had scavenger hunts, ran obstacle courses, ate pizza, had water balloon battles, played wiffle ball, and wore funny hats. I also have to mention last year’s win against Jackson. It was my 200th win and my daughter, Jacy, just so happened to go 4 for 4 in that game. Of course, every win against one of our biggest rivals, the team down south, are in my top 10 memories for sure.”
As Clay begins the process of hiring the program’s seventh coach in its’ history, their now former coach mentioned several who’ve influenced his coaching career in one way or another.
I started out helping my father-in-law, Mike Powell, by catching my daughter Mandy’s pitches, while he taught her windmill. I learned most everything about pitching from him. He also taught me all aspects of the game. I used his notes throughout my coaching years, which included everything from game strategies to pitching techniques to strengthening work outs to the right foods to eat. I also helped coach Little League at Valley. From there, I moved on to coach travel ball for 13 years. I helped Monty Spriggs at Valley as an assistant coach. I started out helping Dick McCleese, who was also my high school baseball coach at Clay, as his assistant coach at Clay in 2010. I coached Little League at Clay and was able to continue coaching my daughter Jacy’s age group in Junior high and all the way through high school. I soaked in all the knowledge I could from other coaches and gained a huge amount of experience during travel ball. I owe much gratitude to my father-in-law, Mike Powell, Coach Monty Spriggs, Coach Odie Estep from Symmes Valley, and Coach Dick McCleese. Thanks to my wife, Cindy, and my daughters and family for their support. I also want to thank Clay High School for the opportunity to coach and all the players that have made coaching such an awesome experience.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved