Softball coach with winning legacy back in the game
After three years away from softball, Penny Reece was excited to learn of a coaching opening at Meade County.
Reece last coached in 2014 at Greenwood, where her tenure came to a tumultuous and abrupt end that November. But an old friend reached out when Haley Ross stepped down following the season, wondering if Reece would be interested in getting back into coaching.
Former Lady Waves coach Mike Harreld, who retired following the 2015 season, asked Reece if she would like the opportunity to restart her coaching career at Meade County. Following her interview Monday, Reece – who started Greenwood’s fastpitch program in 1995 – was officially hired Tuesday.
“I’m very excited about it,” Reece said Thursday evening. “I think it’s a great opportunity. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the tradition of softball at Meade County. Coach Harreld and I would always try to schedule each other, so it was just a good challenge for our teams to play each other.
“When I heard about the job, I thought it was a good fit and a good challenge for me after being out of coaching for a few years.”
Meade County Athletic Director Todd Clanton felt Reece was the right fit to be the program’s next coach because of what she built at Greenwood.
In 20 seasons, Reece won 607 games and state titles in 2007, 2008 and 2013 – when the Lady Gators went 44-0, the first perfect season in KHSAA fastpitch history. Reece is No. 2 in all-time wins, according to the KHSAA.
That kind of success was hard to ignore, Clanton said.
“We feel like we’ve got someone with the experience and someone who not only has knowledge of leading a program but has had a winning formula,” he said. “She reminds me a lot of Coach Harreld. She’s very strong in the fundamentals of the game, very strong in just leading a program. You look at what she’s done in her career, and she definitely has a formula for success.”
Reece said she felt like the timing was right when she first applied for the job.
She said Harreld reached out to her two years ago when he retired, thinking she might want to take over the program then. But Reece remained out of coaching, saying it was too soon.
This time around, everything fell into place perfectly.
“I think you kind of get that itch,” Reece said. “I had done it for 25 years, but the timing was right for me to think about getting back into coaching. It seemed like a good challenge to get the program back into the position that Coach Harreld had built.”
Harreld won 501 during his 20 seasons in charge of the Lady Waves. Meade County has struggled the past two seasons, going 9-16 this past year and 14-18-1 in 2016. Clanton said Ross stepped down to be able to spend more time with her family.
Reece hopes to get Meade County back to the level it was under Harreld.
“This is a program I think that needs someone to come in with the leadership and get those girls back to the fundamentally sound team they were under Coach Harreld,” she said. “I’m extremely excited. I wish we could get started tomorrow. I’m ready to meet the players and the parents.
“Coach Mike Harreld and I have always respected each other as coaches and individuals away from the softball field,” Reece added. “For him to reach out to me concerning the opening at Meade County is very humbling.”
Clanton and the Meade County administration believe Reece will do just that.
“For us, we’ve got a young team that really needs someone with her leadership qualities to get our program going back in the right direction,” he said. “We feel like we have some talent, not just in our younger players but our older ones as well. There’s a hunger here and we do have talented kids. We think she is the right fit.”
Clanton said he’s not worried what happened at Greenwood will happen again.
According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Reece was suspended May 16, 2014, for unspecified reasons. She was reinstated June 23, but then was relieved of her coaching duties in late November.
“You know, we feel like we did our due diligence and we feel like she’s gonna do all the things that are necessary for our kids to be successful not just on the field but off the field,” Clanton said. “We feel like she’s got a renewed hunger for the game of softball.”
Reece, though ready to get her new chapter started, doesn’t view it as a second chance.
Instead, it’s a chance for her to get back to doing something she loves.
“It’s just a great opportunity to continue doing what I love,” Reece said. “It’s been something I’ve missed the last three seasons. It’s a good opportunity to put myself to use.
“At Greenwood, with the tradition we had built there, our ultimate goal was to win a state championship every year. Anything less than that was disappointing,” she added. “This is going to be a little bit different. This program is not starting over by any means, but it’s going to be a challenge.”
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By Josh Claywell
Kentucky Press News Service