“If you build it, they will come” is not a just a line from a movie. For many years, it was the mantra of James Lowe Jr., Bishop State Community College’s president.
The school administrator, who passed away Feb. 18, was given the helm in 2008 after several financial and staffing scandals rocked the Mobile school. Among his initial moves was to hire Mark Johnston as the school’s baseball coach.
“Having our own baseball and softball fields has been a dream of this school for 25 years,” said Johnston, who was a first-team All-American outfielder while playing for the legendary Eddie Stanky at the University of South Alabama. “When Dr. Lowe came aboard, it got more serious.”
Construction, though, did not immediately begin. The Wildcats have been forced to play “home” games at Hank Aaron Stadium and on the campuses of the University of South Alabama, University of Mobile and Spring Hill College.
“It has been challenging, but the other teams have been very kind to us,” Johnston said. “In the meantime, we got to play on some really nice fields.”
With the plans laid out, assistant coach David Pugh and some of his friends — most notably Jim Brooks and Lane Brayko — came aboard to help. Over the last five years with the use of borrowed equipment, more than 150 trees have been removed from a section of Bishop State’s Southwest Campus on Dauphin Island Parkway. The cleared grounds were then leveled to place down baseball and softball fields.
The facility was not quite ready to open the 2015 season. Having to start on the road, the Wildcats dropped their first seven outings. However, Bishop State has since managed to split four straight doubleheaders at its new park.
“It is a whole lot better to have our own field,” said Johnston, who also has Randall Dover as an assistant coach. “We still have to get bleachers and a scoreboard in.”
While lights for night games remain in future plans, Johnston admitted that most community college teams play during the daytime.
Although Johnston is not a Gulf Coast native, he has spent a good part of his life here. He was recruited while playing high school ball in Michigan in the mid-1970s.
“They asked if I wanted to play in Mobile,” he said. “I asked if the weather was warm and we could play all year. They told me, ‘yes.’
“When I arrived, I saw someone putting tape on a window. When I asked why, they said it was for the hurricane. I looked at them and said, ‘What’s a hurricane?’”
Johnston weathered the storm and had a tremendous career for the Jaguars. He ended being a third round draft choice of the New York Yankees. After playing several seasons in the minor leagues and overseas, he became a hitting coach for a Chicago Cubs farm club. Then he got a chance to return to Mobile.
Johnston believes the new facility will give his baseball program a boost. He has been recruiting a lot of his players from Louisiana and Florida, but he really wants to start going after local athletes.
“This field is our crown jewel,” he said. “It is going to be a great park. I really think it will be one of the better fields in our conference. After we add locker rooms and offices, we really hope it will draw the kids in.”
The next action at the baseball field will be a South Division doubleheader on Saturday, March 14, at noon against Jefferson Davis Community College. A dedication of the baseball and softball facility will take place in April.
Johnston said his greatest regret is not having Lowe around to enjoy the facility.
“Dr. Lowe was very proud of how it turned out,” he said. “It is so disappointing that he passed away so soon. We would not have all this today without Dr. Lowe, Bonita Allen (dean of Business and Finance) and Tim Broughton (athletic director). We would never have had the funding without their support.”
Angelo Archible, the coach of the women’s softball team, could not be reached for comment. The next home game for the Lady Wildcats will be a doubleheader with Wallace Community College-Dothan on March 17 at 1 p.m.
— The University of Mobile had several basketball players honored by the Southern States Athletic Conference. Earning second-team honors for the women was Kali Koenig and for the men was Daouda Soumaoroa. Named to the all-freshman team was James Davis, a Faith Academy graduate. Koenig was also on the SSAC all-academic roster, with teammate Laura Beth Wright. The Lady Rams’ Champions of Character representative was Michelle Swopes.
— University of South Alabama freshman Devin Brown has been named the Sun Belt Conference’s Softball Pitcher of the Week for a second time. She is 7-2 on the season, with a 1.88 earned run average and 123 strikeouts in 67 innings.
— Adam Ballew, an outfielder for the Jaguars, earned the SBC Baseball Player of the Week honors in baseball. In a five-game stretch, he went 8-for-18 with a double, a triple and 10 runs batted in.
— In tennis, USA swept the conference’s Athlete of the Week awards. Senior Daniel Leitner won the honor for the fifth time in his career, while sophomore Monica Mitta of Fairhope was named for the first time.
— Joe Niland, the men’s basketball coach at the University of Mobile, recorded a milestone career win recently during an 88-75 victory over Coastal Georgia. In his 16th season with the Rams, he has gone 300-204. He is the school’s all-time leader in wins.
— Karen Curtis McConico, the women’s basketball coach at Spring Hill College, has been selected for induction into the High Point University Athletic Hall of Fame. McConico, in her fourth season with the Lady Badgers, holds numerous High Point’s records in scoring and assists. She was a two-time Kodak All-American performer.