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Ohio University’s Emily Wethington (44) pitches the ball at full force to a Miami batter in hopes of strikeout. Though she will not go pro, she said she appreciates having two former NPF players as her coaches. (Sam Owens | FOR THE POST)

Softball: During off-season, coach plays pro fastpitch 'for the love of the game'

Ohio’s softball season may be over, but for assistant coach Sharonda McDonald, the onset of summer marks a new beginning.

Just more than two weeks after her team lost in the Mid-American Conference Tournament finals, McDonald is returning to Firestone Stadium in Akron, this time as a player.

June 9 is Opening Day for the Akron Racers, McDonald’s National Pro Fastpitch softball team. She’ll spend the summer manning the outfield before returning to Athens in the fall to resume her coaching responsibilities.

McDonald, a four-time All-Big 12 selection at Texas A&M, along with assistant coach Jenna Hall, an All-American first baseman in her senior year at Illinois, both bring a professional pedigree to their coaching resumes.

Although Hall retired from playing professionally after the 2008 season, McDonald has continued to play in the summers. Combined, they have more than six years of experience in the NPF and spent two summers playing together with the now defunct Philadelphia Force.

“My first year, we had seven teams. There were about 150 girls,” Hall said.

“Now, you can fit them all on a 5-by-7 picture card.”

McDonald said the economic downturn hit the league hard. The recovery process has been slow, as the league has shrunk to only four teams. A visit to, the NPF’s official website, greets visitors by soliciting a $20 donation to “insure fastpitch is a strong and stable profession now and for future generations.”

Right now, professional softball is not nearly as strong or stable as the league would like. With a team salary cap of $150,000, and rosters ranging from 20 to 25 women, playing professionally amounts to a glorified summer job.

“For what we get paid, you do it because you love it, not because you want the money,” McDonald said. “… You play for the love of the game.”

Despite different routes — McDonald was a first-round pick while Hall went un-drafted — both were named all-stars during their time with the Force.

And for both, the decision to play pro softball was a no-brainer.

“I couldn’t see someone turning it down,” Hall said. “How often does the opportunity arise? How long is it going to stick around?

“You’re playing next to the greatest players in the world, not just the country. It’s such a special thing. Not many people get to do it.”

Former Force coach and current Buffalo head coach Jennifer Teague persuaded Hall to apply for the assistant coaching position at Ohio. When another assistant coaching position opened up two years later, Hall sent her old teammate a message, encouraging Hall to join her in Athens.

Both Hall and McDonald have used their experience playing softball at the highest level to help turn around the Ohio softball program.

In the four years that Hall has been in Athens, the Bobcats have had one sub-.500 conference record, compared to only one winning season in the four years preceding her. During her tenure, the team’s batting average is .276.

“She always talks about making adjustments in the box,” said senior pitcher Emily Wethington, the program’s all-time home run leader. “… Her philosophy in hitting helped a lot this year and in past years.”

McDonald, who just finished her second year with the Bobcats, has worked with improving outfield defense as well as making the team more potent on the base paths. This season, the team’s stolen base total increased from 48 to 60.

 Both coaches said that on more than a handful of occasions, recruits have recognized them from their playing careers.

“It’s an honor to play under people who have played at a higher level than you have,” Wethington said, “just being able to say, ‘I got coached by one of the best players in the United States.’”


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