Before she was 20 years old, Shanna Massey was juggling multiple balls.
Young mom. College student. Softball player.
It was on a spring afternoon when she ran out to second base for Shawnee College that she realized she wanted to add one more ball to the list.
“Alexis was on the road trip with me and when I was on the field, coach would hold her in the dugout,” she said of Warren Cook. “When we had our first Christmas, he brought over a present for her.
“So on a personal level, he touched me. That’s how it got started.”
From personal kindness sprouted one of the best coaching careers in Southern Illinois annals. Now Shanna Green after a second marriage, she’s won three Class 1A titles as Goreville’s softball coach and taken five teams to the state tournament in an eight-year span.
Forget the overall winning percentage of .609 in 14 years, a mark which would be higher if the Blackcats didn’t punch well above their weight class outside the Black Diamond Conference. Green’s postseason success, her thirst for hard work and a personal touch that inspires players to succeed has proven her methods work.
“She works hard at it, and she’d be the first to tell you she’s had lots of talent,” said Goreville athletic director and boys basketball coach Todd Tripp. “She also gets the most out of it.”
Case in point: The 2018 season, one where the Blackcats had some problems to fix as the postseason started. They lost 10 regular season games and were plagued by inconsistent defense, particularly on the infield.
Unafraid to flout convention, Green rolled the dice and put her star player, Lexi King, on third base. What’s the big deal? King’s a left-handed thrower. The sport’s counter-clockwise set-up makes third base a much more difficult spot for a lefty.
“I swore I’d never play a left-hander at third base,” Green said. “But Lexi is such a good athlete that she made it work.”
With King solidifying the infield defense, Goreville rattled off a six-game winning streak and reached the state finals before losing. A year later, King threw a two-hitter in Goreville’s 4-2 state title win over Illini Bluffs.
Weeks after that victory, King reflected on what Green meant to her.
“She’ll get right in your butt and make you work hard, but if you need help, she’s right there for you,” King said. “When it comes to her players, she’s right there for anyone.”
A 1997 graduate of Goreville, where she played basketball and softball, Green became the Johnson County school’s softball coach prior to the 2006 season. It took a few years to build the program, but by 2010, the Blackcats won 23 games.
Two years later, Goreville made history. With Shelbey Miller and Taylor Odom providing the offense and Sydnee Rushing dominating in the circle, the Blackcats became the county’s first state champion.
“It was special to become the first one to bring home a state championship,” Green said. “I’m a competitor and each time I win, it’s the same feeling over and over again. It was extremely satisfying. You can ask my kids, I even want to win in board games.”
The dice seem to have a way of coming up 7 and 11 when Goreville needs a play in big games. Look at last year’s state semifinals and finals.
In the semis, Goreville and Hardin Calhoun were scoreless in the 12th inning when the Blackcats’ Cheyenne Walker stepped to the plate with a runner aboard. Moments later, the ball was sailing over the left-center field fence. It was Walker’s first homer of the year.
The next day, Goreville trailed Illini Bluffs 2-0 in the sixth. The Blackcats pieced together a four-run rally, the work of a team expecting success and trained by their coach to find a way even when all the paths appear blocked.
Tripp reflected back to Goreville’s season opener against Class 4A power Rock Island at Carbondale, where the Blackcats were swept 11-2, 14-2.
“She’s not ever scared to play anyone, so our schedules are always good,” he said of Green. “If things don’t go well, they shake it off and move on. It’s part of her leadership skills as a coach.”
Leadership skills are one thing. But when you can combine them with results and a human touch, you wind up with a coach like Green.
A coach who learned how to juggle all the balls without dropping one, thanks to a coach who selflessly showed her the best of human nature.
“If you can connect with kids and get them to buy into your vision, that’s half the battle,” Green said. “With him being so personal and working on the mental aspect, that’s where it’s at. That’s what I live by when it comes to coaching.”
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