D210502 Austin softball coaches

Austin softball coaches Tyler and Jayda Stephenson have helped the team go 37-10-1 so far this season. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Health officials say that two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will do the trick.

For Austin softball, two doses of Stephenson seem to have done the trick.

With Tyler Stephenson as the first-year head coach and his wife Jayda back for her fifth year as an assistant coach, the Black Bears have had one of the best seasons in school history at 37-10-1 and are ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 7A.

Austin begins postseason play Tuesday in the Class 7A, Area 8 tournament at Bob Jones. The Black Bears play James Clemens at noon.

“It’s been a fun and exciting season. Now it’s time to carry it over into the playoffs,” Tyler said.

The Austin softball program had been in a rebuilding stage for several years under head coach Brian Wakefield. Just as they were starting to make some noise in Class 6A, the Black Bears moved up to Class 7A. Wakefield left after the 2019 season. Alex Malone was head coach for one season.

Tyler Stephenson had been with the Austin baseball program for 12 years, the last six as head coach. Jayda has been a softball assistant.

That combination of jobs led to a hectic spring sports season for the couple. Each coach would go their separate ways. When possible, one coach would go cheer on the other’s team.

The family dynamic got a little more complicated when son Ripken, who is now 4, came along. The son’s first name was a suggestion made by Tyler, a Cal Ripken fan, and one that Jayda loved.

“We’ve had a village of family and friends to help make this work,” Jayda said.

Finally it got to a point where something had to change.

“When Alex Malone left, Watt Parker (Decatur schools athletic director) suggested that I take the job,” Tyler said. “I actually thought about it two years ago, but we had a big group of seniors, and I couldn’t leave them. This year baseball was going to play a lot of young players. It was a good time to make the move.”

One thing that made the short physical move of a few steps from baseball to softball at Austin was baseball assistant Drew Williamson.

“Drew had been my assistant for several years, and he was ready to become a head coach,” Tyler said. “I feel like I left the program in good hands.”

Husband and wife coaching teams are rare, but it’s been proven to work. When Larry Greene coached girls basketball at Tanner, his wife Pat was an assistant.

The University of Tennessee softball program is headed by the co-head coaching pair of husband and wife Ralph and Karen Weekly.

Tyler and Jayda have been a couple since their school days at East Lawrence when she was Jayda Terry. He graduated in 2006 and she did in 2009. They will celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary in December. He teaches history at Austin and she teaches English.

Jayda admits she had some concerns about her husband making the move, but it was not about if Tyler could coach softball. She was concerned he would miss baseball.

“I didn’t know if he would love softball like he does baseball,” Jayda said. “He had camaraderie with his assistant coaches and I was afraid he would miss that. I knew he would fit in with the girls. They knew him. He wasn’t a stranger. I knew he would do a great job.”

There have been a few obstacles to overcome. Even though baseball and softball are similar games, there are some major differences in coaching the game.

“I had never heard of a slap defense, but you need one in softball for the slap hitters,” Tyler said.

One other thing that had to be settled was how the players would address having two coaches named Stephenson.

“The girls would call us both Stephenson and we had to ask boy Stephenson or girls Stephenson?” Tyler said. “They were used to calling her Stephenson, but I pointed out that I was the original Stephenson. So they decided to call me ‘The Stephenson’ and she’s still ‘Stephenson.’”

Also on the Austin softball coaching staff are Rachel Pendergrast, Erin Sprague, Rachel Simpson and Jelisa Thompson.

“Really coaching is all about relationships,” Tyler said. “I love our girls and they love me. When you have that as a coach your team will play harder because they want to please their coach.”

Senior Lawren Hayes admits she didn’t know what to expect.

“He brought a new dynamic to the program. We pray as a team every day,” Hayes said. “I think it has brought our team closer together.”

Junior Katie Bracken has gotten to feed on some of the hitting philosophy that her twin brother Cameron has heard as part of the baseball program. Tyler has pushed the girls to be more aggressive in RBI situations.

“I know that’s helped a lot with our offense,” Bracken said.

Bracken and Kenley Hilleary give Austin a dynamite pitching duo. The ability to score runs in bunches has elevated Austin to a new level of success.

The first few months of this year have been a busy one of the Stephenson family. In January, they moved into a new house. Ripken is in his first season of T-ball. The softball team is determined to make this month one to remember. In November the couple is expecting their second child.

“Life is good,” Tyler said.

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 david.elwell@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2395. Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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