The 2010 softball season will be a season of firsts at Free State High for more reasons than one.
In addition to opening play on their new turf field — work on replacing the current surface is scheduled to begin this summer — the Firebirds will be playing under the direction of a new head coach for the first time in school history.
Pam Pine, the school’s first and only head softball coach, retired recently, announcing the decision to her team at the end-of-the-year banquet.
For Pine, the decision to step aside came down to little more than a desire to take her life in a different direction.
“I just thought it was kind of time,” she said. “I was going to retire when (daughter) Jamie (Stanclift) graduated (in 2005), but I had seven little freshmen that season who came to me and begged me to stay. Every year after that, I just kept thinking about it and kept thinking about it. Eventually, I figured I had to do it sometime.
“It’s tough,” she added. “I’m close with all of the girls every year. And it’s hard to leave. But I just felt like it was time for me to try something different.”
Though she’s not immediately certain of what her new challenges might include, Pine said the biggest benefit of her decision will be the time she’ll have to spend on herself and with her family.
In 13 seasons with the Firebirds, Pine experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. During her first season, in 1998, FSHS finished just 1-19, but that was with a brand-new school and an entirely new program. She improved steadily in each of the next few seasons, adding a few victories per season each year.
Building the program into a respectable contender was just one of the things Pine was most proud of about her time in the FSHS dugout. The others included building relationships with her players and assistant coaches and helping her girls succeed on and off the field.
“I was always pretty proud of the fact that some of the girls I coached got to go on and play college softball,” she said. “That was pretty cool, and that always makes you feel good.”
As for the moment that made her feel the best, that was a no-brainer.
“I think beating Olathe East was probably my top memory,” Pine said. “That was in 2007. We won the league that year, and we were the first team to beat them (O-East) in, like, nine years.”
The Firebirds finished 17-3 that season, their best record under Pine.
Although her retirement marks the end of her coaching career, Pine said it did not signify the end of her involvement with the program.
“I’m still going to go to the games, and I’ll do whatever I can to help with the transition,” she said. “All of the new things that are coming and all of the things we did to try to help the program, those are good things. This was my 13th season, and 13’s my lucky number. With Olathe Northwest going on to win state and us almost beating them at regionals, I thought that was a good little ending.”
No time table has been set to find Pine’s replacement.