On the back of the West Union’s practice shirts are the words “Go the Extra Mile,” a motto that helped drive the Lady Eagles to the Class 1A state championship in October.
The shirts were created to symbolize a quote 2009 Daily Journal Slow-Pitch Softball Coach of the Year Andy Kirk used when he took over the program seven seasons ago: “On the road to success you can be sure of one thing, there is never a crowd on the extra mile.”
“We had a special group of girls that bought into the system when I first got here,” said Kirk, who is the award’s first two-time winner. He was the Journal’s COY in 2007 after leading the Lady Eagles to the state finals. “These senior girls were seventh graders when they saw what it took to be successful and bought into going that extra mile from day one.”
Before the Lady Eagles could go the extra mile, Kirk’s coaching career took the long road that eventually lead him to Enterprise and the summit of Class 1A slow-pitch softball.
The former Ingomar multi-sport standout athlete started his career as an assistant coach at New Albany before becoming a graduate assistant at Delta State. He eventually worked with the Ball State baseball program in Muncie, Ind., as a volunteer assistant. It was there, he says, he became a student of the game.
“When you get on the phone with the coach from Cal State Fullerton to get a scouting report it makes you realize how important that side of the game is,” Kirk said.
“I’ve got scouting reports on teams like Ingomar and Myrtle and can tell you everything they’ve done since they were in the seventh grade. We have the chart and play the odds kind of like playing football; if a team has a great running game you try to take that away from them to be successful.”
It was his intense work ethic and love for the game that rubbed off on this season’s seniors and helped them understand what it took to play like champions.
“He could be hard on us, but after being with him all these years and being able to win a state championship, I am glad he pushed us so hard,” said Kimberly Jumper, one of eight seniors on this year’s squad.
It was also that desire for excellence that helped the Lady Eagles stay focused on their championship goal despite the numerous rainouts that interrupted the season.
“This season was a really hard one with all the rainouts because teams really couldn’t play enough to find their rhythm and really get on a roll, but I think it helped bring out the leadership we needed to get us to playing at a level where we could compete with anyone,” Kirk said.
Kirk also credited his assistant coaches, Lisa Bogue and Ashley Russell, for their countless hours and dedication to the program both on and off the field as a key cog in the team’s success.
“Without Coach Bogue and Coach Russell, a lot of what we were able to do wouldn’t have been possible,” Kirk said. “It’s a real boost when you have coaches with their type of experience and dedication to the girls.”
Midway through the season, Kirk announced he would not be returning next season, upholding a promise he made to spend more time with his family once his daughter, Macy, started participating in junior varsity athletics at Ingomar.
The Lady Eagles responded by finishing the season on a 15-1 run that sent their beloved coach out a winner – a sweep of West Lincoln for the state title.
“It was great feeling to be able to win the championship for coach,” Jumper said. “One of the first things we talked about was how much we wanted to win the championship for him since this was going to be his last year.”
“I guess you could say we finally finished the extra mile,” Kirk said, then smiled. “It’s a coach’s dream win their last game in their sport and it’s really special to have that opportunity.”
He plans to continue teaching and coaching basketball at West Union, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a return to the diamond.
Kirk’s career record is 146-88 in seven seasons that included two state championship series appearances – ‘09 and 2007. He also coached West Union to a state championship in golf in 2003.