June 3, 2009
For Immediate Release
Successful Campbellsville Coaches Wathen, Sanders Challenge Players On and Off Field
They may appear to be as different as night and day, but the head coaches of Campbellsville University’s baseball and softball programs share something that speaks for their teams’ successes over the past five years — they like to challenge their players on and off the field.
Beauford Sanders and Shannon Wathen
Beauford Sanders has been around CU baseball for 19 years and has accumulated more than 835 wins. But he says he still likes to go sit in his baseball stadium and ponder and meditate.
“I just sit there and marvel that an old plow mule like me has been fortunate enough to have an opportunity like this.”
Shannon Wathen leaves off the mule reference when talking about her job, but exudes some of the same love for her profession and her players that Sanders does.
“There is life after athletics,” Wathen said recently. “The sole reason for my players to be here is to get a degree. We want to win on the field and in the classroom.”
Historical statistics are sketchy, but softball and baseball placed 11 and 10 players, respectively, on the Mid-South Academic All-Conference teams this season. And as wins have piled up over the past five years for both programs, so have the academic accomplishments. Both teams always seem to have more academically excellent student-athletes than any other teams in the Mid-South. Yet they still seem to win as well.
“It’s myth that you can’t do both (win on the field and succeed in the classroom),” Sanders said.
The wins and titles don’t lie. In the past five years, baseball has won three regular season conference championships and five Mid-South Conference tournament titles. The Tigers have played in five NAIA regional tournaments, winning the opening round national championship tournament this year, and finishing runner-up twice. During this same time frame, softball has won five regular season conference championships and three Mid-South Conference tournament titles.
Success kind of breeds success, but it hasn’t necessarily been easy.
“It’s been tough,” Sanders said. “It’s been a team effort and a combination of energy from coaches and players.”
Both Sanders and Wathen praise the university for upgrading their facilities.
“For a small school, we don’t apologize for anything facility-wise,” Sanders offered. “All I can say is ‘wow.’ Every time you turn around there’s some improvement — whether it’s the Hawkins complex or the Coke Indoor facility or new weight room ...”
“Our facilities are extremely nice,” Wathen said. “Our staff has put in a lot of work, but so has the physical plant. Our playing surface is as nice as any we play on.”
Sanders, while enjoying success his first 10 years while playing in the KIAC, had to regain his form after the university joined the Mid- South.
“The Mid-South had stronger teams bottom to top, and we couldn’t recruit as many top-line players as our opponents,” he explained. “But the school increased its support and we hired solid assistants who are very knowledgeable.”
One look at the Tiger baseball roster will tell you that there are no geographic boundaries when it comes to recruiting. CU has players from California and Canada, the latter a mission of Canadian-born assistant Randy LeBleu.
Wathan says her success is borne out by improvements in Kentucky high school softball, where 90 percent of her roster calls home.
When you talk to Wathen about her job and team one word — love — keeps popping up. “I love my job ... I love my kids ... I love watching them succeed ... I love CU (where, by the way, she was an All-American basketball player in the 1990s).”
It’s probably easier to love your job when you are piling up 187 wins in the past five seasons as Wathan has done.
But for her and her baseball counterpart, wins are tempered with a dose of reality.
“We deal with victory and we deal with defeat,” she said. “When you convert that over to everyday life, our kids learn that sometimes not everything seems fair, but it’s that way in life too.”
So it is, baseball and softball are life’s best lessons learned on a diamond-shaped field.
At Campbellsville University dealing with victory appears to be easy.
But the coaches seem to have a handle on everything else too.
--By Richard RoBards, correspondent