Pike Road completed its search to fill the last of three coaching vacancies with the surprising hire of veteran Dothan High coach Patricia Ball as the Patriots’ new softball coach.
Ball, who took over the Tigers’ slow pitch program and developed it into a well-known fastpitch program, has compiled an 841-450-2 record in 24 years, including a 16-3 record this past spring before the coronavirus shut down the program in mid-March. She coached Dothan High to the Class 6A state championship in 2011 a year after finishing as the runner-up The Tigers also finished third in 2012 and 2017.
“I’m excited,” Pike Road athletic director Patrick Browning said. “I can’t wait to see her coach and our girls in developing because she’s great at developing talent. We couldn’t get a better softball coach in here. She’s won state titles and been in multiple final fours and is an amazing person.”
Browning had reached out to several softball coaches in the area as he started his search and one of them recommended he talk to Ball, whose husband Ron Lambert works in Montgomery at Faulkner University.
“Their AD gave me a call but I was looking just to finish my career out down here,” Ball said. “Anyway, he talked me into coming up and hearing him out and it was a good opportunity, so I decided to make the move. It’s just God’s timing. It’s good for my family and my kids have grown and are in college.”
Another interesting link for Browning developed in conversations with Pike Road Schools superintendent Chuck Ledbetter, who had previously served in the same capacity with the Dothan City School system and was very aware of Ball’s background.
“It was just a very welcoming environment when I went up there and talked to them and looked around,” Ball said. “It just has a real good feel to it. They’re trying to get a brand-new program off the ground and I built Dothan (High’s) fast pitch program from the ground up.”
The consolidation of Dothan High and Northview High this past season couldn’t have helped matters. Ball was a 23-year veteran at Dothan High and Jessica Noble was a 16-year veteran at Northview, but rather than choose a head coach, school system administrators chose to make both co-head coaches, a situation Ball shied away from discussing.
“It was a little different,” Browning reasoned. “That’s from the outside looking in, but that’s what I thought. Not in a bad way, but I would want to run my own team.”
Pike Road officials delayed the announcement until Ball could break the news to her team. She admitted it was difficult to leave her 11 seniors, which included seven from the original Dothan High program.
“It was a tough decision,” she said. “That ties into the kids. I’ve heard from so many of my past players in the last few days and their families. It’s been a great reminder of how blessed I’ve been to be surrounded by these kids that have poured their hearts into it. The legacy I’m leaving at Dothan is because of those kids who poured their hearts and souls into what we were doing.”
For Browning and co-athletic director Joi Washington, the hiring of Ball concludes a hectic summer in which the Patriots had to replace girls’ basketball coach Courtney Ward, baseball coach Skipper Jones and softball coach Brooke Watson. That search resulted in hiring Montgomery Academy coach Barry Fencher, Pike Liberal Arts coach Allen Ponder and now Ball.
“It goes all the way back to Barry in girls’ basketball and Allen in baseball and now Patricia in softball,” Browning said. “I feel like we’ve got the best coach in each sport in all three of those positions. Right place, right time is a lot of it, but I think people are seeing the value of not just living in Pike Road but being a part of the school system. You’re looking for people with vision and all three of those have vision in what this place is going to be. More importantly, all three are quality people who are going to bring a lot to the program.”