How Claire Graves went from having no intention of coaching to leading Gadsden City softball
Claire Graves had no intention of coaching once graduating college.
Graves, a former Southside High softball standout who went on to play at Troy University, received her degree in hospitality, sport and tourism management in Dec. 2019.
She planned on working in college or professional athletics in sales and marketing.
Graves started applying for jobs after graduation once the holiday break was finished. While doing that, a position opened up at Southside to help coach softball.
The idea was to do that while applying for jobs. Then COVID-19 hit.
“Everything got shut down,” Graves said. “Along with that, the sports and hospitality industry was shut down as well. There were no more jobs for me to apply for.”
Her time at Southside reminded her of how much she enjoyed being around softball. Not too long afterwards the Gadsden City job came open. The plan was for her to be an assistant to then-coach Shane Sanderson for a bit, but he ended up retiring in the fall.
Suddenly Graves was named the interim coach at the 7A level – the biggest classification in the state.
She is used to high-level softball. She played for a state championship with the Panthers and was named 6A player and pitcher of the year by the Alabama Sports Writers Association her senior year in 2015. Graves then played four years of Division I softball.
She’s now leading a program that has never made the playoffs.
“I like the challenge of getting to teach these girls the game,” Graves said. “The little details and the fundamentals and building something from the ground up.”
As far as the interim tag goes, that will be reassessed in the summer.
“Our plans are to remove the interim tag and name her head softball coach if all goes correct,” Gadsden City athletics director Todd Lamberth said. “… I think she’s doing it right and has a really good plan.”
Gadsden City declared to not compete for championships a couple of seasons ago to let the inexperienced group play teams on their level for a chance to compete. Because of that, their schedule does not consist of area games.
The plan is to eventually declare for championship play with the Alabama High School Athletic Association, possibly as soon as this summer. That will also be reevaluated.
Gadsden City pulled out a win against Gaston on March 9. The season has featured ups and downs, but that was a big moment.
“The (win against Gaston) was huge,” Graves said. “There were a few of them that were even crying after the game. It’s moments like that that make all the other hard times worth it.”
Graves has visited elementary schools, trying to get the youth involved to help develop players earlier. A lot of the athletes coming through the softball program currently aren’t participating until high school or just before.
“We have some ideas in place of hosting some camps and free events for the community trying to get the girls thinking about softball,” Graves said. “I know at a school this size that we have the athletes. They just aren’t coming out there.”
What was key in Graves’ and Southside’s run to the 6A state title game?
“We all started on our little team; we were called the Crush,” Graves said. “I think we were 10-and-under. We played together starting at that age all the way through. You build those relationships and learn how to grow with each other.”
That’s what Graves would like to see at Gadsden City. It’s all part of doing what enticed her about the job in the first place – building a program.
“It’s the type of mindset I have,” Graves said. “I don’t do very well talking highly about myself, but one thing that I have noticed and having a few jobs here and there, I feel like I’m going to be good at whatever it is I’m doing because of my work ethic, passion and how much I care about other people. I am going to give it everything I have for the betterment of the group as a whole.”
Reach Gadsden Times reporter Teddy Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Teddy_Couch.