More than a coach

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dee Hughes, long-time softball and volleyball coach at Goshen passed away Wednesday morning after a battle with breast cancer. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Dee Hughes, long-time softball and volleyball coach at Goshen passed away Wednesday morning after a battle with breast cancer. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Former, current players remember life lessons taught by Dee Hughes

Since the school was formed in 1897, the colors of the Goshen Eagles have always been purple and gold. But over the last few years, folks may have noticed a sprinkling of pink in the stands at sporting events the Eagles participated in.

The pink is in honor of longtime Goshen teacher and coach Dee Hughes. Hughes passed away Wednesday morning after a long and courageous fight with breast cancer.

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During her time at Goshen, Hughes led the Lady Eagle softball and volleyball teams to multiple trips to the state playoffs, including a trip to the elite eight in softball just four months ago.

Current Goshen volleyball coach Amy Warrick coached alongside Hughes for seven seasons in both sports. Warrick said Hughes is one of the strongest people she has ever been around, and she has learned so much from her mentor.

“I have been with her for seven years,” Warrick said. “We have won a lot, and lost a lot, but we are all better players, coaches and people from her being in our lives. She is truly a very special person, and I am glad I was able to be a part of her life and career.”

Warrick’s daughter, Allie, was a pitcher for Hughes during the infancy of the Goshen softball program. Allie and Dee had hundreds of conversations inside the pitching circle during games at the Goshen softball field, so naturally, Allie returned to that special place to reflect on Tuesday night.

“After we left her house about 11:30 Tuesday, I went straight to the field and sat on the mound for a long while,” said Allie. “We had our best, and sometimes worst, talks standing on that spot, so it is where I feel her most. She will always be there in that circle.”

Allie, now a student at Troy University, is a volunteer coach at Goshen and specializes in pitching. Hughes’ daughter Haley is one of the Eagles’ aces. Allie will now have the same conversations with Dee’s daughter she had with her coach.

“Haley has been so strong through all of this,” Allie said. “She told me Wednesday that we get to have the same talks on the mound that her mom and I had. I know in all of our meetings out there, Dee will be with us.”

Allie said Hughes preached a motto that she lived until the end.

“She refused to allow any of us to quit,” Allie said. “She looked me in the eye after a loss one time and told me that she would not allow any of her players to quit. She was more disappointed in that than the loss.”

Several of Hughes’ former or current players took to social media in the past week to wish their coach well. The tweets and posts ranged from Bible verses to favorite memories of their beloved coach.

Several of the posts recalled the smile on Hughes’ face after seeing her team clinch a spot in the state quarterfinals of the state softball tournament this past May.

But outside of the championships, wins and accomplishments, Hughes left an impression on her athletes that is bigger than strikes and outs and aces and spikes.

One of Hughes’ former players, Shelby Vinson, is currently playing softball at Faulkner State Community College. Vinson said she owes many of her achievements to her “Coach Dee.”

“She always wanted us to work hard,” said Vinson. “She was never satisfied with anything less than our absolute best effort. Without her pushing me and coaching me, I don’t think I would have ever achieved this dream of being a collegiate athlete.”

The Goshen softball field has gone through major changes since Hughes’ took over the program a few years back. The addition of a covered batting cage this past season was one she had always wanted.

But players feel one final addition needs to be made.

“Whether it is official or not, it will always be Dee Hughes Field,” said former player Caitlin Thomas Smith. “It is her field. She put her heart into that community and school. She made us all believe that we were somebody, and she will always have a mark on the world.”