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Searle Steps Down from UOttawa Softball
Over the holidays, the OIWFA received word that long-time Head Coach at the University of Ottawa, Scott Searle, would officially be stepping down from his duties with the Gee Gees. Being involved with UOttawa since its inception in 2001, Searle was one of the last two remaining active coaches since the league started in the early 2000s.
Stepping into the role as Head Coach for UOttawa will be four year veteran of the program and star-athlete Grace Lonergan.
Searle has undoubtedly been not only the face of UOttawa but has also been synonymous with the OIWFA as a whole across this province and beyond. Scott has been one of the most vocal coaches in OIWFA history, continuing the battle to receive recognition and funding for his athletes at the intercollegiate level.
Searle has quite the portfolio in 2015 as he wears a number of hats in the softball world; sitting as the Softball Ontario Coaching Committee Chair, NCCP Learning Facilitator and Evaluator, Head Coach at Softball Performance Centre in Napanee, Assistant Coach with Team Ontario U21 Boys Team for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, and Assistant Coach with the Scarborough Force ISC Men’s squad.
Scott has brought great success to the Gee Gees both on and off the field. Highlighted by five OIWFA and 13 consecutive playoff appearances, Searle is confident that Grace will follow the tradition of success. Not only has Searle brought a winning attitude on the field, but he has also used the sport as an avenue for social change within his athletes, creating awareness games around homeless youth, youth mental health, child soldiers, breast cancer, Canadian soldiers serving overseas, and LGTBQ issues.
“I’m proud to be able to have got to know Scott on a professional and personal level and have the pleasure to call one of my biggest opponents, one of my good friends. The OIWFA loses a valuable asset in Scott as we continue to pursue our league wide goal to receive recognition. Over my time with this league, I have never seen athletes gravitate towards and respect a coach as they have with Scott. On behalf of the OIWFA we want to thank Scott for his decade and a half of contributions to the OIWFA and wish him the best of luck in his coaching endeavours moving forward. At the same time we are all excited to see the next chapter UOttawa undertakes with Grace and pleased to see another OIWFA athlete take on a coaching role” said OIWFA President Matt Allen.
The OIWFA recently sat down with Searle and Lonergan to ask a few questions, memories, and laughs.
OIWFA: How did you first get involved in coaching at UOttawa and the OIWFA?
Scott: In my first year as a student at uOttawa, I heard that Genevieve Walkden and Rachel Macmillan were starting a softball team. I had played the sport for a long time, at a relatively low level, but had worked as an umpire and thought I could be of some service. I volunteered and they took me on as an Assistant Coach. I had the opportunity to work with a few different head coaches before they asked me to become the Head Coach in 2007. As an Assistant Coach, I was extremely fortunate to work with Gil Read who was the Team Leader for the Women's National team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. I learned a great deal from him, and from all of the athletes and coaches I have been given the opportunity to work with. It is not an exaggeration at all to say the uOttawa softball team has been the most positive experience of my life.
OIWFA: What has been your biggest accomplishment within the OIWFA?
Scott: As a teacher, I am most proud of our programs 100% graduation rate. Everyone who has joined our program has graduated university and our alumni include successful doctors, lawyers and teachers among many other professions.
Coaching and teaching are really vocations for me and I have always believed that sport should be about more than safes and outs and hits and steals. I am extremely proud of the uOttawa programs commitment to social change and efforts to improve our community. In my 13 years with the team we have used our home games to raise money and awareness for a variety of causes such as; homeless youth, youth mental health, child soldiers, breast cancer, Canadian soldiers serving overseas, and LGTBQ issues. I am also very proud of our team’s culture of giving back, and we have hosted "Bridge to the Future Clinics" each year for local youth in the area. I started to feel old, when kids that we met during these clinics started to play for our program!
On a competitive level, I am extremely proud that our team qualified for the provincial championships each year in the 13 year history of the OIWFA, and of our 7 Podium finishes at the OIWFA Championships.
OIWFA: What are some of your best memories?
Scott: 13 years of doing something I love makes for a lot of positive memories. I have always loved coaching because I love softball, I love people, and I love teaching skills. For me, my best memories have come off the field. I have been extremely flattered and honoured to have been invited to many weddings and included in celebrations of our alumni off the field. I have also made some of my best friends through our program and truly cherish the relationships with athletes and coaches.
Watching athletes reach goals, and achieve success is the best part of coaching and I will never forget watching; Shannon Lundrigan, Grace Lonergan, Danna Masters, Elyssa Dobson, and Baylie Gigolyk hit their first over-the-fence homeruns in a Gee-Gee uniform. One of the best memories for combining great skills with great timing was watching Vanessa Homiak make a game-saving, over the head, against the centre field fence to make the third out of the 7th inning to steal a grand slam from U of T and put us in the final. I was also thrilled to celebrate no-hit pitching performances with Erica Chan, Jean Cardona, and Elissa Sivel in her 7th year with our program. I always love the ceremonies our team does at the OIWFA Banquet and those nights with our graduating athletes are very special to me and I will never forget any of them. Certain athletes like Jillian Taylor and Elissa Sivel like the ceremony so much, they have participated in it 3 times each!
More recently, one of our athletes Michelle Miller writes a rap each year to celebrate and honour her teammates and coaches and listening to those performances at the end of each year is something I will never forget. We have participated in the OIWFA Championship game 5 times, and the CCSA National Championship once which always created great memories of the highest level of competition for intercollegiate sport in Canada.
OIWFA: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the OIWFA since its early days?
Scott: I have been very encouraged at the numbers of alumni that have begun to get involved in the administration of the OIWFA. I think it is very important that female athletes have female role models in coaching and become more involved in the administration of a women's league. I was thrilled to see Amelia Keech take over as coach at Queens and join the OIWFA executive this year, and think it is great that Steph Manson has been involved the past 2 seasons. I was also very proud that uOttawa alumni Jillian Taylor coached at Queens, and uOttawa founder and alumni Genevieve Walkden has coached at uOttawa, York and now at the University of Toronto.
The improvement in quality of play has been noticeable in and recent years it has been great to see so many Canada Games and National team athletes participate in the OIWFA (although, I wish some of them had joined our team!) The first few years of the OIWFA saw a wide spectrum of ability on most teams, but now most teams are competitive, and many of Ontario's best athletes have decided to stay home and play at a high level. For us at uOttawa to compete against athletes like Brittany Hicks, Stacy Cox, Rebecca Nixon, Nicole Singleton, Jody Walthro, Karlene Cooper, Kim Moroun, Jade Yerex, Shannon Galea, Amy Oliver, Carrie-Leigh Thomas, Kelly Craig, Samantha Kwok, Robyn Haig, Natasha Szlapetis, Tricia Mackay among so many others are among the best athletes in their sport in Ontario and their decision to compete in the OIWFA speaks volumes about the quality of play and the dedication of volunteer coaches in Ontario. I just wish we had created better plans to get them out more often!
OIWFA: Why should more softball players consider staying in Canada and competing in the OIWFA?
Scott: The OIWFA is a real alternative for softball players who would like to focus on a Canadian education and continue their sport. As a high school teacher, who attended Teachers College in New York State, I know how challenging it can be to have qualifications attained in the United States for jobs in Canada. In my view,it is a shame that so many softball players study and play softball for 4 years in the NCAA and return to Canada to find their qualifications are not recognized. Ontario universities are some of the best in the world, and softball players have a great opportunity to study at home and continue to play their sport at a high level.
OIWFA: What is next for Scott Searle after stepping down with UOttawa?
Scott: I am a high school teacher in Ottawa, and the first week of school coincides with our bi-annual trip to Windsor and London Ontario for the season-opener, so the first thing that comes to mind is I will be well-rested for the first day of school for the first time in my career! I love softball, and could never leave the sport and will continue coaching in a variety of capacities. I am privileged to be on the coaching staff for the Scarborough Force which is a Senior Mens team that finished 5th at the ISC Worlds last year, and we are hoping to improve our standing this year. I am also an Assistant Coach with the Men's Team Ontario Program, and am involved with the Softball Performance Centre in Napanee. I will continue as a Learning Facilitator for the Softball Ontario Coaching Program, and am coaching a Womens Masters team who will be competing at the World Masters Games in Auckland 2017.
OIWFA: What led you to the decision to step down as head coach at UOttawa?
Scott: Coaching in the OIWFA has been a fantastic experience, and one of the things I am most proud of in my life. Coaching in the OIWFA also means taking on a variety of different roles, such as; travel agent, politician, fundraiser, agitator for more money, media-relations expert, field maintenance expert, raking expert, an expert in how to remove water from soaked fields in the fall, chauffeur, etc etc etc . All for the privilege of sleeping on the floor at major competitions because the program cannot afford extra hotel rooms. With coaching two teams, volunteering as a Learning Facilitator for Softball Ontario, and working with the Softball Ontario Performance Centres, I traveled over 31,000 kilometers for softball in 2013. I would not trade any of the experiences that I have had, and the uOttawa softball team has given me many opportunities in our sport but the workload has become unbearable at times and I, and my car, needed a break.
OIWFA: What impact will Grace bring to UOttawa as a coach and former athlete?
Scott: I was involved in the creation of the uOttawa program, and could not have stepped down unless I was certain it would be in good hands. I am thrilled that Grace will be taking over. With 4 years of experience with our team, I know her to be a great athlete, solid teammate, and even better person. Her competitiveness, kindness and compassion will make her a great coach and I am very proud to have worked with her. My goal at uOttawa was to always pass the team to an alumni and I am thrilled that person will be Grace.
OIWFA: What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
Grace: Coming into this new role I am really looking forward to continuing his (Scott) vision and following in his footsteps. I cannot wait to get our team ready for the next season and continue the traditions we've all come to know so well. More importantly I am looking forward to working alongside the coaching staff in a new exciting way, Scott has always been someone I respect greatly and I can't wait to put our heads together as coaches.
OIWFA: What has competing in the OIWFA for 4 years meant to you?
Grace: The past 4 years have flown by very quickly. From my first practice to my last game I have the greatest memories that I cherish forever. Wearing the Gee Gees uniform took on a different meaning each year, by the end it symbolized acceptance, respect and family. OIWFA has provided me the opportunity to play the sport I love while supporting causes I strongly believe in and I cannot wait to take the helm of the Gee Gees and hopefully provide that same experience to future players.
Rick Mercer Visits OIWFA Action - November 2013