T.W. Josey joined the Georgia High School Association in 1967.
The Eagles have state titles in football (1995), boys’ basketball (1978) and girls’ basketball (1998). In the 53 years since joining GHSA, the softball team had never qualified for the state playoffs.
That was until Dominique Davis took over the program in 2018. After hurdling an unorthodox summer and shortened season, the Eagles made history by qualifying for the 2020 GHSA state playoffs. They traveled to top-seeded Berrien High School Monday and were swept in a doubleheader (losing 15-0 and 18-0).
A former softball player at Paine College, Davis welcomed the challenge of building the program from the ground up. That process involved applying for grants from Pitch In For Baseball & Softball, which she has gained $6,000 for her program over three years.
“It has been a learning experience, actually,” she said. “Coming to a school that is predominantly basketball and football, it was a bit challenging because every girl that we had did not have softball experience. Being at an all-minority-based school, you don’t see this being a predominant sport for us.”
“Building the program, we had to start from the bottom and teach the fundamentals. We don’t have the resources that a lot of the teams in state already have. It’s been a challenge, but with the help of my team and coaching staff it’s been a good challenge.”
Davis has leaned on an area coaching great to help guide her through the choppy waters of building a program. She praised Harlem coach Mike Leverett for having an open door and sharing his wisdom along the way.
“My first year coming in, I remember asking him a lot of questions. He has a championship team and I wanted to see what jewels he could drop for me so I could get the same thing going. He dropped a few secrets here and there and he’s one of the reasons why Josey is advancing. He’s been so willing to help.”
Taking athletes and turning them into softball players in such a short period of time is no easy task. Most of their competition has been playing the game since elementary school, so the learning curve can seem that much steeper by the time they reach high school. Junior catcher Shantee Griffin noted the specific challenges her team faced, including not having a home field to use for practice.
“Well, we really didn’t have a full season, on top of us not having a field,” she said. “Practicing on our school’s football field, May Park and then here at Glenn Hills, it’s been a challenge but we toughed it out.”
Not to mention most of these girls have jobs and play other sports, on top of their academic responsibilities. Junior Mercedes Dames, for instance, spends a lot of her time off the field and basketball court helping take care of her siblings.
“Usually I have to babysit and stuff like that. You know, us teenagers nowadays have to go and watch our brothers and sisters, so I try to watch over them for a little bit then I have to leave,” she said. “By the time I get here I have to call and check up on them.”
For freshman Kayla McCord, the pride of this moment comes from a different place. Being an African-American woman in a sport historically dominated by white women adds a certain amount of pressure, but at the same time allows these girls to break through barriers and upend the norms of their sport.
“It feels amazing to me, to be a part of this and to make history. We are an all-African American team and we challenge each other a lot,” she said. “For me, it’s a lot of pressure going into the playoffs because I really want to win a championship and represent Josey.”
Davis added that what her players lack in experience and equipment, they make up for in heart and drive.
“Any game we go into, we want to show them that yes, we don’t have as much experience as any of these teams, I’ll give you that. We don’t have the resources and facilities you have, I’ll give you that,” she said. “But we do have heart, dedication and fight and as long as you have that, no one can take that away from you. My girls are fighters and we’ll fight through any condition.”
For Davis and Josey softball, this is just the beginning. She wants her program to one day be mentioned on the same level as Harlem and Jefferson County.
“I just really want every coach to understand that we’re here, so get used to us,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere and we’re going to bust our behinds to be there with the best of the best and we want that. We want the wins, we want the losses, we want the hard work and we want to be able to go to state every year.”
Regardless of the outcome in the playoffs, this moment was 53 years in the making. These girls will forever be a footnote in Josey’s history. Any success the softball program has in the future will be linked back to this 2020 team.