19 years, 367 wins, and 4 state championships
After 19 years, a Centralia legend is stepping away from something she loves.
During the Centralia High School fall athletic banquet Lady Panther Head Softball Coach Jill Angell announced her retirement as head softball coach.
Angell’s softball teams brought Centralia four state championships: 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016 and along the way, she said taught the school district’s young women some valuable lessons about life.
“Wins and losses were never my number one concern,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I like to win. I think building a program was my first focus,” she said of the program founded by CHS legend Coach Jim Enlow and handed off to her from one of Enlow’s successors Mike Hight.
“Developing young ladies to be productive members of society would probably be one of the top things I feel like I really try to do. Instill a work ethic, learn how to deal with failure, get along with people you don’t really like, those kinds of things you have to do in society to survive.”
For Angell, those lessons and the successes of her former players are far more important than her coaching career’s win and loss stats.
And, one could argue it is for a more specific group of youngsters, that she is retiring. Their names are Micah age 2 and Dekker and Ainsley, both four months.
“I’m going to be loving on my grandchildren,” she said of that trio, when asked what she is going to be doing with the dozens of hours a week freed up now that softball is in the rear-view mirror of her life.
The sport has changed, she said, beyond new regulations.
“The game is just so much faster and more powerful. . . and the ball is hit harder, further,” she said. “When I started coaching, a kid got on base, there might have been two slides in the game. Now in a typical game there’s 15 slides, just because the plays are so much closer, there’s so many more kids on base. There’s so much more base running, stealing, more aggressive play. We play more aggressively, than before. It is dramatically different.”
She said high school players spend a lot more time playing than they did 19 years ago.
In the fall season it is almost every Saturday and it’s an all-day thing because of tournaments, two with the JV, three with the varsity, Angell said.
“Two of the three tournaments we go to are Friday and Saturday. So there are weeks we are playing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Then you turn around and do the same thing again. I won’t miss that. It’s more than just a one-season sport any more. All the sports are.”
In 2000 she started the team dumpling program, “to try and raise some money to buy some stuff,” which she said would continue. In 2008 she started the team camp. “It was a gradual thing,” she said regarding the increasing amount of time softball used. “And it’s gotten busier since then.”
“Kids now will play 100 games or more in summer. It’s nuts to me, but that’s what makes us good.”
In the process of getting good, Angell coached under five CHS principals, Jim Head, Darin Ford, John Rinehart, Dave Meyers and Matt Smith. That does not include her two very early years as CBMS’ softball coach when she worked for Phil Gooding.
Smith had this to say about Angell’s work: “Coach Angell has done a lot of great things from a strategy/organizational standpoint, things that you’d say a trademarks of successful coaches. But, what has set her apart, and her program apart, is the family atmosphere, the bonds, she cultivates within the team. Our kids who have been a part of this program have been a apart of a lot more than just practices and games. They have been a part of a culture of success and a culture of community, a culture where the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.”
Her first year at CHS she had a 14-6 season. Of the 19 seasons she only had one losing year, 2006, when the Lady Panthers were 9-14.
She said she put in her letter of resignation that year. “They told me they couldn’t find anybody, so I stayed.”
And she is still staying. As a teacher. Nobody, she said, should take her retiring from coaching as retiring from teaching. “I still really like what I do,” Angell said. “I see myself as being here more than this year and next.”
The conversation always returns to the students. “Individual successes,” she said when asked her fondest coaching memories.
She estimates at least 24 of her players have played college softball.
Many also became high school coaches.
Those include: Amber Duncan – Macon Tigers
Kayla England – formerly Harrisonville
Shayla Cox-Wellsville softball, Hannibal LaGrange and currently coaching volleyball at Mexico
Sydnee Hatton – Grad assistant at William Woods
Markie England formerly at St. Clair softball and basketball
Erin VanMannen Higginson – formerly Cairo and Centralia
Mallory Henry – formerly Centralia and Battle High School and Lange Middle School-basketball.
Macey England – formerly RayPec Currently CBMS basketball.
Henry, one of Angell’s All-State players had this to say: “This new world we live in is based on temporary, wavering principles. If they can even be called principles. I had the pleasure of playing for and coaching beside someone of strong will, character, and faith that believed and actively practiced natural law. In doing so she influenced all the “little eyes” that were upon her. I know I have personally referred back to her countless ways of encouraging and embracing each individuals uniqueness. It has provided guidance and a sense of balance in how I interact with individual players and teams on and off the field or court. Thanks coach for leading by example and for setting a standard that I truly believe us girls chase each and every day.”
“To see and be a part of those individual successes. A stolen base record, or a hitting record, or going on to college to play softball or going on to college and not playing softball,” Angell said. “And maybe the best, coaching my own kid. That was a huge highlight for me.”
And of course the state finals appearances. “You cannot have that not be one of them,” she said. “It was something I’d dreamed of since I was 16. For 35 years.”
“Right now I don’t know,” Angell said. “My daughter’s already talking about when the two-year-old is six me coaching her and I’m like ‘I’m in… Yes, yes we will.’ Other than that I don’t know that I have a plan at this time, just kind of take a little time to see what comes up. Maybe something will.”
“That’s why I couldn’t quit everything at once because I don’t have a plan, I don’t know. Let’s just kind of see what comes up. . . We’ll see.”
“Oh in a heartbeat, oh absolutely, that’s an easy question. Angell said when asked if she would do it all again.
“She’s had a tremendous impact on her players,” said Enlow, a long-time observer of Lady Panther softball.
“She surrounded them with leadership and ran a no-nonsense program and established quite a legacy. She established what she wanted in a program and the girls followed it. That’s good leadership.”
He said: “The next coach will have to follow that legacy. It will be tough to do, like following John Wooden.”
Another local figure with a vested interest in Centralia’s youth agreed, Larry Dudgeon, chief of the Centralia Police Department, agreed.
“Coach Angell an integral part of what makes Centralia, Centralia. A teacher, coach, the likes of Jill Angell stands out to me as she is a constant, positive driving force. Not just in the young ladies she has mentored but to all students who have come her way.
State titles are nice and make for lasting memories, however to me, if not one state title had Coach Jill Angell at the top of the plaque, her stature as a person, teacher, coach, would in my mind remain the same. Tops, simply tops.”
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