While the softball diamonds may be closed, Josh Clarke is ready for spring and the first crack of the bats.
Clarke was announced as the new Illinois Valley Central softball coach at the Sept. 11 school board meeting.
"I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to coach at the varsity level for IVC," Clarke said. "I am very fortunate to be taking over a strong program and I couldn't be more excited for the group of young ladies that will be coming back this year."
While Clarke is ready to start coaching softball, that will not be the first squad of Ghosts under his tutelage.
"Outside of softball, I am the assistant girls' basketball coach at IVC this year and served as the assistant freshman baseball coach for the district last year," Clarke said. "I have also spent time coaching at the junior high levels as well as have served as an IHSA official for both baseball and basketball."
Clarke's first year as the head coach will, however, not be the first experience he gets with his players.
"Being a teacher in the district last year, I know many of the girls from classes that I teach," Clarke said. "Based off of observations from last year, as well as knowing the students in class, I fell that I am very fortunate to have such a quality group of girls to work with. I have held a meeting with those interested in the softball program and I am thrilled because I can tell they are passionate for the game and have the dedication and drive to be successful."
Before coming to IVC, Clarke served as the assistant varsity softball coach for Dunlap High School two seasons ago.
"I have a passion for softball and have wanted to pass on my passion at the highest level," Clarke said. "I am fortunate to inherit such a great group of athletes and I feel that my energy and passion for the game can help them both on and off the field."
Even though Clarke is not originally from Chillicothe, he said he has always had an admiration for the product the Ghosts put on the field and court.
"I grew up in nearby Brimfield, so throughout high school I constantly competed against IVC in different athletics I participated in like baseball and basketball," Clarke said. "Through my experience competing against IVC as well as having the opportunity to teach at IVC, I have been extremely impressed by the closeness and support of the school district.
"It makes me even more excited at the opportunity to coach. Currently, my wife and our two daughters live in East Peoria."
With a life spent in sports, Clarke said it is the athletes that keep him coming back.
Page 2 of 2 - "It is hard to narrow down what excites me about coaching to just one or two things," Clarke said. "I am a very competitive person both on and off of the field but the biggest thrill is seeing the athletes succeed after all of the hard work they put in. More than that, though, I just love to see the students grow both as athletes and as individuals as they work as a team."
The athletes, however, are not the only thing that brings Clarke back to the diamond.
"I love the speed of the sport," Clarke said. "In the past, I have played and coached baseball and, while they may have similar concepts, they are certainly different in game style.
"Due to its pace, softball is a game that demands perfection. The combination of the pace of the game and the natural enthusiasm that softball players tend to bring to the sport…it makes for a very exciting atmosphere."
Even though 2013 will mark Clarke's first season, he said he already has lofty goals.
"Due to my competitive nature, I would be lying if I said I didn't want to be successful in terms of our regular and postseason performance," Clarke said. "Obviously, though, taking over the program this year, I am also focused on laying the groundwork to ensure that the program can be successful both immediately and in the future."
To build a perennial contender, Clarke said, he must work with every level in the district.
"The ultimate goal of any program is to have consistent, sustainable success in the postseason," Clarke said. "In addition to this, I would like to continue to build relationships with the community in both their support of the program and our programs involvement in the community.
"Additionally, I would like to build relationships with our youth softball programs to help aid in that concept of consistent and sustainable success."
Clarke, despite having a drive for success on the diamond, said that is the second most important place he wants his team to succeed.
"Just as I am a teacher before a coach, the girls are students before they are athletes," Clarke said. "First and foremost, my goal is for my players to succeed in the classroom. I would support and do my part for any player to play at the next level in college. However, I now for some this may not be an aspiration. Thus, it is important to ensure that my players are receiving the quality education they need.
"On the field, my goals for the girls are to have a successful season while learning life lessons that will help them, regardless of the avenue they take, such as teamwork, discipline and hard work."