LAND O’ LAKES — On a breezy Wednesday afternoon, Academy at the Lakes softball coach Jerry English looked at the practice field, which is squeezed between a daycare and a church off State Road 54, and pondered what drill he was going to go over next.
During a 38-year tenure, English has had that same watchful eye over both the Land O’ Lakes and Academy at the Lakes softball programs. The longtime Pasco County staple is approaching a milestone not many coaches reach: 500 career wins.
English sits at 499 and his first crack at 500 came against Clearwater Central Catholic Thursday afternoon and the 78-year old believes the game will be like any other, but he can’t deny the accomplishment.
“It’s a game and it has special meaning to me,” English said. “Getting close to No. 500, it just brings back a lot of memories for me. All the kids I’ve ever coached, played softball with and coached with. It just brings back memories.”
The memories are scattered among the hundreds of games coached within Pasco County, from the first that was a victory against Gulf High in February, 1977 to Academy reaching the state semifinals last spring. When English was brought out of retirement to coach the softball team before the 2012 season, he started off helping the Wildcats’ football program in 2011 and said he revisits official retirement from coaching on a yearly basis.
“I remembered more of the failures when we didn’t win and I’ve learned from those to make the others a success,” English said. “Every game that I go out to, something sticks in my mind about it. I get out here and behind the fences and everything else goes away. It’s good concentration and it keeps my mind fresh. I consider everyday a new adventure for me. I wake up every morning looking forward to the day and I still enjoy coaching.”
Academy at the Lakes (12-3) aims for the Class 2A-District 7 championship next week and the Wildcats are a state-ranked team, according to the last state softball poll. English doesn’t want to make a big deal out of the milestone nor have it overshadow any team accomplishment, but it’s no secret to his own players.
“If coach gets the win, we’re all going to celebrate and go out to eat,” shortstop and USF signee Lauren Evans said. “I really hope he gets it. It’d be a good accomplishment and I’d love to be apart of that. 499 wins is a lot of wins and I’m honored to be apart of it.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him Twitter @avillamarzo.