When former Douglas High ski coach Rob Parks saw his teaching position move from Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School to the high school before last school year, he started thinking about getting back into coaching again.
At the time, though, there just weren’t any openings.
Instead, he got to take the school year to teach and enjoy his daughter Maddy’s softball season as the Lady Tigers put together a Cinderella run through the regional playoffs.
And then a funny thing happened. Andy Mitchell, the softball program’s all-time winningest coach, stepped down after seven solid years at the helm.
It was the opening Parks had been looking for. He was announced as the program’s head coach last week.
“Rob showed up about a week into the search, and we open it up only to in-house candidates for the first two weeks,” Douglas athletic administrator Jeff Evans said. “He said he was interested.
“He’s a longtime Douglas County guy who was familiar with our athletic program. He already knew the head coaching end of things in terms of organization and logistics. It’s a good group with a lot of great players coming back. They are going to make a lot of noise the next few years in terms of their ability. Rob is just going to be a great fit for the program.”
Parks said he doesn’t plan on doing it alone, though. He’ll have Kayla Jacobsen (formerly Dunn), a Douglas softball standout who went on to play at Georgia Tech and Utah State, as his top assistant. She’s been coaching with the Lady Tigers for the past several seasons.
“I’ll be relying on her a lot for a lot of the in-game softball decisions,” Parks said. “She’s played at the college level and has worked with a lot of these girls already. I’m really going to rely on her experience.”
Parks himself brings a good deal of experience to the table. Aside from a number of successful years at the helm of the high school ski team, he has also coached with the Carson Valley Hot Shots traveling teams, the Carson Valley Girls Softball Association and one season assisting former Tiger standout pitcher Dena Sargent (formerly Pitts) with a tournament team.
“Just teaching at the high school, I’m able to be involved in the players’ day to some extent,” Parks said. “At the high school, it’s much more of a program and not just a team. And the focus is heavily on the student-athletes. I feel like that is an area I can relate to the kids well with. It should be a good, fun team.”
In his final year with the program, Mitchell invested heavily in the program’s future by bringing up a large portion of underclassmen to the varsity level. The team began to reap some of that benefit during the season, playing its best softball during the playoffs.
“Andy did a great job of infusing young players into the varsity roster,” Parks said. “It was just a good mix of kids. There was a great balance between the seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen.
“There were also some great players at the junior varsity level and there will be some very strong incoming freshmen this next year. It’s going to be a tough team to pick, but that’s a good problem to have.
“I think it’s really a testament to the quality of players Carson Valley Girls Softball Association and the Hot Shots have been building up. Andy did a great job and I just want to try to continue that.”
Parks, whose daughter is a two-year starter for the Tigers and has two years remaining, said his approach with the program will be more administrative.
“Kayla will be in charge of a lot of the setting the lineup and things like that,” he said. “My role is make sure the players are being coached every day and developing to their full potential. It’s not enough to me to just put everyone where I think they should belong and let it ride for the season. I want to see continual improvement and progress.
“Andy did such a great job getting this program pointed in the right direction and bringing it to where it is. I just want to pick up where he left off. It’s not a matter of unfinished business (falling short in the regional title game last season), but about improving every day.”
Douglas returns a host of starters for next season, including Sierra League Pitcher of the Year Kali Sargent, pitcher Kaitlin Bowman, catcher Kelly Sonnemann, infielders Allison Meyer and Maddy Parks, and outfielders Leonna Mortimer, Julia Gomez and Makayla Shaver.
“It’ll be great,” Parks said. “They have good pitching, timely hitting and good fielding. And I think the girls are hungry. There are kids working hard this offseason and I’m looking forward to working with them.”