Jane Ware notches 400th softball victory
By John Bernhardt
“I have good kids here, kids who love to play softball,” Jane Ware says when asked to explain her incredible run of success winning softball games coaching for Roxbury. Ware’s Rockets downed Davenport, 16-11, last week Tuesday giving the veteran coach her 400th win in a 31- year coaching career.
Stacey Sprague, Ware’s catcher on this year’s squad, was one of the heroes on Tuesday. Sprague picked up five assists from at or near home plate; two throwing out runners at first base, getting two more runners trying to steal second, and gunning down a single runner trying to advance to third while helping Ware nail down the landmark victory. Ironically, it was Stacey’s mom, Wendy, who starred as the winning pitcher in the first win of Ware’s career.
Not in the plans
Teaching physical education and coaching softball wasn’t on Jane Ware’s radar screen when she graduated from Spencer VanEtten High School. Ware, who grew up on a farm, wanted to be a veterinarian and enrolled at Ithaca College. After volunteering at a veterinary clinic during her freshman year and watching too many healthy animals put down, Ware lost her enthusiasm for being a vet and transferred into Ithaca’s mathematics’ program.
Mathematics, too, did not prove to hold Ware’s long-term interest but she found her niche when she changed programs once again, this time into physical education. Ware would earn her Bachelor’s Degree and then return to Ithaca as a graduate assistant and coach the Bomber’s Junior Varsity Volleyball team as she earned her Master’s Degree.
Volleyball was Ware’s chosen sport. Ware lettered for four seasons of volleyball at Ithaca and coached championship volleyball teams at Spencer VanEtten for two seasons before landing in Roxbury. She picked up her softball ‘know how’ touring the Northeast for six seasons playing tournament softball.
In the fall of 1982, Ware was hired at Roxbury to teach K-6 PE and coach the girls’ varsity basketball and softball teams. Ware enjoys coaching basketball and has helped out with the Roxbury program at every level at one time or another when she was needed, but it was softball that had a real appeal.
There was a lot of pressure on a young Roxbury coach in Ware’s early years. “Roxbury dominated just about everything when I arrived there in the early 1980s,” she remembers.
Ware put a Rocket softball trophy on the table her very first year. It wasn’t easy. When she started that first year, Ware remembers that everyone had their own idea about how softball should be played, and most folks weren’t terribly interested in how a new, young softball coach thought things should go. Ware scheduled a weekend of non-league games with her old school in Spencer VanEtten. The girls from Spencer VanEtten, including Ware’s younger sister, visited Roxbury and stayed with Rocket host families.
“In our first game that weekend, I allowed the girls to pick where they wanted to play and how things would go. We got slaughtered 30-0. For the second game, I told the ladies, we’d be doing things the way I thought they should go.” Ware’s concept of how things should go included putting an 8th grader behind home plate, something that wasn’t received with much enthusiasm. Ware’s team won that second game, and her Rocket teams have been off and running ever since.
There have been so many games and so many Delaware League championships, off the top of her head, Ware’s not exactly sure how many her Rocket teams have won. “We’ve got either 20 or 21, something like that,” she guessed.
For three or four years, Roxbury played in the Upper Division of the DL. Ware remembers one championship year during that era fondly. Her team was a big underdog with Stamford favored to win the division. To motivate her gang, Ware staked a challenge. If her girls brought home the title the girls could cut and/or color their coach’s hair any way they wanted.
As you might expect, Roxbury and Stamford went into the final game of the regular season tied for first place. Roxbury squeaked by Stamford and Ware wore a new hairdo with blond tinted curls.
Delaware League Crossover championship games didn’t get started until sometime around 2000. “We’ve won a bunch of those, too,” noted Ware, although she wasn’t exactly sure how many.
Ware’s Roxbury teams have never won a Section IV title but they have reached the championship game several times over her career, “We’ve lost to Afton a lot,” explained Ware with a laugh.
“The tough part of softball in the Catskills is our girls don’t really pick up a softball until their seventh-grade year,” noted Ware.
Ware puts the girls on an accelerated program. “It’s all about basics, basics, basics,” said Ware. “I believe you need to develop a pitcher and a catcher and at least one girl to catch the ball up the middle, and then you fill in the other slots as best as you can.”
Ware has made a habit of filling in those slots brilliantly over the years. The veteran Rocket coach is a master at matching up her game strategy with what her kids prove they can do on the diamond and then stretching the scope of play as their skills improve. “If all you can do is bunt, you’re going to bunt until you prove you can hit,” Ware cited as an example of this philosophy.
Over the years, Roxbury teams are almost legendary for their base running and situational play. Here’s Ware’s secret. “We put the pitching machine on home plate and strategically place some fielders on the field. Everyone else lines up at one base, let’s say first base. We’ll spend 30 minutes using the machine to cover ever situation we can think of involving running from first base; leading, stealing second, moving from first to third on a bunt, delayed steals, whatever you’re imagination can come up with. You can’t execute what you don’t see. You can’t tell kids about these situations, but to do it right, you have to place them in the situations over and over and over again.”
The same teamwork Ware teachers on the softball diamond she models in her own willingness to tackle anything that comes her way around school. When she had some serious issues with her knee and was finding the wear-and-tear of teaching P.E. difficult to handle, Ware went back to school and earned a second master’s degree, this time in Curriculum and Instruction in Computer Education. Ware currently is an Instructional Technology teacher in grades K-7 at Roxbury and is responsible for the Yearbook.
Ware wouldn’t have it any other way. Ware loves teaching. She loves teaching in a small school where you can see children grow from the time they enter kindergarten and follow their progress through their senior year in High School. “Small schools offer kids opportunities to do so many different things,” marvels Ware.
That includes playing softball. And, of course, Jane Ware loves coaching softball.