Some teams hope to win one state title in their school’s history. For Andy Powell and the Dale Lady Pirates, winning championships is what they do. The Lady Pirates have nine state titles in softball, and Powell was the skipper on eight of nine.
Under Powell’s leadership, the Lady Pirates won fastpitch titles in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018. Then there’s spring ball. Dale earned gold balls in 2012, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Powell’s initial goal for himself was to be a baseball coach. When his daughters started hinting about wanting to play softball, plans changed.
“I always wanted to be a baseball coach ever since I graduated from college,” Powell said. “I coached baseball for 13 years and when my oldest daughter was a fourth grader, I decided to look for a softball job. I did not want to miss her games. My dad never missed any of my games so I knew I had to look for a softball job.”
Powell started his search for a softball coaching position in 2007. Dale principal Ky Wilkins heard about Powell wanting to get into softball and made a pivotal phone call.
“With my wife being from Tecumseh and the reputation Dale has for girl’s athletics and is great academically, it was where we needed to be,” Powell said.
Just 12 short years ago, Dale hired Powell. After a board meeting approving the hire, Powell asked Wilkins what the Lady Pirates’ record was the year before. Powell recalls they were something like 0-25 in the fall and 1-24 in the spring.
“I knew I wanted to build a program and make it respectable,” Powell said.
Powell looks at his assistant coach, JD Widner, as more of a co-coach than an assistant.
“Having JD Widner around here for so long helps,” Powell said. “He’s a head coach that decided to stay here and win. He left briefly and came back to us. He’s as good of a coach as any I’ve been around. We built this together and do everything together. He’s one of the main reasons for Dale’s success.”
Then one day, the future looked bright.
“JD and I went down to Jr. High practice and there were about 21 girls out. After the first practice we watched, I turned to JD and told him we were going to win.”
It was a struggle at first. Powell said his record his first year was roughly 11-19. Each year the team improved and eventually they knocked on the door of greatness.
“The whole team was sophomores when I got here. When they were seniors we went to our first state tournament.
In 2012, when the seventh graders we watched practice were juniors, we won our first state tournament.”
For most teams, beating Dale is like a championship. For coaches, beating the Lady Pirates is something to put on a resume. For the Lady Pirates, it’s just another day at the office. Watching this group of athletes, it’s obvious they’re all close friends, but as soon as they step onto the field, they are consummate professionals.
“It took a while to get used to, now it’s part of the culture,” Powell said. “We have been number one for so long, now it’s the norm, which is a good thing. At first it was tough. We get the best out of everyone. I don’t know how many coaches tell me that their team lost because we have Dale on our chest.”
Winning consistently is what Dale does. A team obviously needs a good coach to win, but having historically great athletes doesn’t hurt either, Powell said.
“Being in this winning environment helped build our program,” Powell said. “We’ve had really good players throughout my time here. We’ve had the best players, not just in 2A, but the best players in the state for five years now. I don’t care how good of a coach you are, you need good players to win.”
Looking back on all the success, Powell remembers telling his wife, before the titles came in droves, he would be happy to make one state tournament. With all the recent success, each title feels just as good as the last, Powell said.
Not every player will get a hit or score a run, but one thing is certain, the Lady Pirates have fun.
“This wouldn’t be worth doing if you’re not having fun,” Powell said. “Your priorities change as you get older. When we put down our goals as a team. The very first is to have fun. It’s not about winning state championships, or getting college scholarships.”
It might seem crazy at the moment, but eventually Powell and the Lady Pirates won’t make a state championship.
“Right now we are at the top,” Powell said. “We are fortunate to have the right chemistry and combination of players and community at the right time. I don’t know how long this will last, but until it does, I’ll be doing the exact same thing.”