This weekend, the James Madison softball team welcomes Jennie Finch to Veterans Memorial Park as she brings her Jennie Finch Softball Camp to Harrisonburg, Va., Sept. 7-8. The camp runs from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7 and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8. Saturday night, there is a Champions dinner in the club level of Bridgeforth Stadium.
Finch played at the University of Arizona from 1998 through 2002 where she was a three-time All-American and a two-time winner of the Honda Sports Award given to the nation’s top player. She set an NCAA record winning 60 consecutive decisions, spanning nearly two seasons. Three of those wins came in the 2001 Women’s College World Series where she won Most Outstanding Player honors after guiding Arizona to the title.
After college she was a member of the USA National team, winning a gold medal in Athens in 2004 and silver in Beijing in 2008. She also played in the National Pro Fastpitch league for the Chicago Bandits where she played for JMU Head Coach Mickey Dean.
We sat down with Coach Dean and Finch to discuss this weekend’s camp.
JMU Head Coach Mickey Dean
How did you first get involved with the Jennie Finch camp?
MD: While coaching the Chicago Bandits in the NPF she played for me for about six years. She had already been doing camps across the country so we asked her to come do one at Radford when I coached there. She came and did some camps for us at Radford and they were really successful, so when I was hired here, I asked if she’d continue to do it.
What’s the usual attendance for one of these camps?
MD: It’s just a great event for the community. It probably brings in 3,000 people. Normally we get around 400 campers. The community and the kids get to talk to five US National Team players and be trained by the best. We’ll also do a banquet with a silent auction on Saturday night. The community gets to sit down with Jennie and the Olympians, asking them questions and getting some time to get to know them. It’s a really nice event.
What is your role with the camp?
MD: We’re just here. It’s her camp and she runs it. My staff and the players, since it is a community event, will volunteer to work it.
What benefit do you think your players will get from the camp?
MD: I think just being around those players will help. Every one of them was an All-American. They were strong academically. I think it is always important if you want to be successful, to surround yourself with successful people. I think our players will get a great benefit just being around the camp.
MD: I’m sure they will at dinner and other meals. Hopefully they are smart enough, and really I hope this of the whole team, to grab one of the Olympians and asked them to grab a meal or coffee. I’d hope they’d just sit down and talk to them and hear their stories and wisdom.
How has working with Jennie and some of the other Bandit players helped make you a better coach?
MD: It gave me a better understanding of there being more than one way to do something. A team always needs to be on the same page, especially defensively. Working the Bandits taught me to listen to players. Rather than just coaching them all the time, it’s better to engage and hear what they are thinking. It is one of the reasons I have an open door policy to my office. When we are out of the field we have a very short time period to get a lot done. With an open door policy it allows the players to come in and talk about whatever’s on their mind, be it softball or whatever.
Has Jennie taught you anything that you’ve been able to instill in your players?
MD: If you watch Jennie play, you see someone who was able to play the game at such a high level and still be able to enjoy it. Sometimes players have trouble with that. They focus so much on trying to be the best player, they never enjoy it and sometimes they enjoy it, but never progress. She and the other Olympians have the ability to put both of those things together and get the most out of the game.
How did you get involved with doing a camp with Coach Dean?
JF: I do camps all over the country and he had shown some interest. He told me he’d love to do one in Virginia, so we brought one to Radford and it sold out, bringing in over 400 campers. It was such a huge success that we will now be doing it for a fifth year with Coach Dean.
Why did you what to get involved with running camps for young softball players?
JF: I love being on the softball field. I love sharing the passion I have for the game, the love, the life lessons, how to deal with failure, teamwork, discipline, leadership. That’s what it’s all about. Teaching young softball players, and hopefully inspiring the next generation.
This camp is a little different from some of your others because it includes a Champions Dinner. What does that entail?
JF: The Champions Dinner will have all the camp coaches, including some of my Olympic teammates, getting an opportunity to be more personal with those attending the dinner. We’ll do a question and answer session. It is a more intimate, but goes into greater depth. We’ll get a chance to hang out and talk about the game.
What other members of the USA National Team are attending?
JF: Andrea Duran (UCLA, 2006), she was a 2008 silver medalist in Beijing. Leah O’Brien-Amico (Arizona, 1997), she’s a three-time gold medalist in 1996, 2000 and 2004. Mackenzie Vandergeest (Arizona, 2004) and Toni Mascarenas (Arizona, 2001), they were both members of the USA National team.
Have you had a chance to follow Coach Dean’s success, specifically his first year at JMU?
JF: Unfortunately not a lot. I know they had an incredible year and I know he also did some great things at Radford as well. He’s had a ton of success over the last five or six years and that’s not at all surprising to me. I’m sure he’ll continue to do great things at JMU and JMU will have a bright future.
As a pitcher, what did you enjoy about working with Coach Dean?
JF: He’s passionate about what he does. He truly cares for his players beyond what they do on the field. That’s what I think stands out the most when I think of Coach Dean.