Softball Coach named for Geneseo Middle School - who is she?

Claudia Loucks

When Jennifer Johnson came to teach in Geneseo 2004, she said she was “shocked” that there wasn’t an IESA (Illinois Education School Association) sports.

That is no longer the situation for Geneseo Middle School. In addition to numerous other offerings, softball is now offered as a fall sport for GMS girls.

The season has started with 40 GMS girls out for softball…and Johnson said, “We surveyed girls at the end of last school year and were surprised that there were so many interested! Some are girls that play travel softball, some are girls that play GYBS softball, and a few are trying softball for the first time”

Jennifer Johnson

When Johnson questioned the absence of sports for middle school in 2004, she said she was told that was “just the way it is. Within a few years I was starting my family, and sports were on the back burner.”

“I did notice that we started competing in IESA in track and field, then cross country and wrestling,” she said. “In 2018 many smaller surrounding schools switched their sports seasons of volleyball and basketball to IESA and added softball. I was hopeful that one day softball would be added at GMS as well.”

When golf was added to the Geneseo Middle School, Johnson was an assistant coach and she said, “I wanted to see the process of a sport in its inaugural year. When Covid hit in 2020, I started researching. I realized that change doesn’t just happen. Passionate people have to get things going.”

Johnson began to plant the seed of girls’ softball at GMS with Coach Pat Mitchell and Coach Bob Pettit.

“My 2022 goal was to pursue softball as a sport at GMS,” she said. “I wanted the girls of Geneseo to have the same opportunity to play middle school softball. I pitched my idea to our GMS Athletic Director Drin Pardoe. From there I met with Mr. Pardoe and Mr. O’Dell (Nate O’Dell is GMS principal), then progressed to a meeting with Superintendent Dr. Adam Brumbaugh and Mr. (Tim) Gronski. The last step was presenting to the school board in April. They approved softball for the 2022-2023 school year at the May board meeting.”

When Johnson was asked about the benefits of having a softball team for middle school girls, she replied, “A majority of girls do play travel softball for a variety of teams in the Quad Cities. We do offer a local organization, the Green Xtreme, to act as a feeder program “

She said the current high school varsity roster, the girls represent eight different travel teams…”This (a middle school team) gives the girls a chance to come together before high school starts to develop a stronger bond.”

Johnson also cited the fact that those who do not play travel softball would have the opportunity to play at a more advanced level at an earlier age…”Those girls would be better prepared for high school by getting reps in every day at an earlier age, and seeing what skills they need to work on,” she said. “Travel softball is often on a time limit, 70-minute games, a new opportunity for new tournaments every weekend. IESA softball has no time limit. They play a full seven innings. IESA has a postseason that the girls would be able to participate in. Post season is special, one loss and you are done. You are playing for your school and for your community. What better way to get them prepared for high school?”

“We feel that this middle school experience will be very beneficial in competing in the Western Big 6 conference in high school,” Johnson added.

When asked some of the goals of the middle school team, Coach Johnson said, “Our goal is to give the girls a chance to play together before high school, give every girl the opportunity to play softball at a higher level, teach girls the physical and mental side of the game at a younger age.”

The Geneseo Middle School Softball Team is the only school in the Heartland Conference participating in IESA softball.

The GMS Team will have home games at the JF Edwards Complex, and post season will begin Labor Day weekend. Away games have been scheduled at Princeton, Barrington, Annawan and Ottawa.

In addition to Johnson, other GMS softball coaches are Carley Rusk and Kane Causemaker.

The volunteer high school coaches are Emily Bopes, Reagan Bopes, Lynn Cotty, Addison Dykstra, Sienna Frank, Jaelyn Lambin, Kyah Newell, Ella Pettit, Madi Scott, Sidney Spindel and Payton Stohl.

Johnson said, “The high school girls are doing a phenomenal job of leading groups and teaching skills to the younger players.”

GMS SOFTBALL GAME SCHEDULE:

-Thursday, Aug. 4 – @ Logan (Princeton) – 4:30 p.m.

-Monday, Aug. 8, - Mercer County – 4 p.m.

-Tuesday, Aug. 9, - Ridgewood – 4:30 p.m.

-Saturday, Aug. 13 – @Barrington Middle Prairie Campus – 10 a.m.

-Saturday, Aug. 13 – @Barrington Middle Station Campus – 12:30 p.m.

-Tuesday, Aug. 16, -Kewanee – 4:30 p.m.

-Tuesday, Aug. 23, - West Central – 4:30 p.m.

-Saturday, Aug. 27 – @Annawan/Wethersfield – 10 a.m. DH.

-Tuesday, Aug. 30 – @Ottawa Shepherd – 4:30 p.m.

-Regional Games begin Wednesday, Sept. 7 –Location to be announced.