Giving back to the game: Longtime coach and softball mentor is set to lead Rebels

Published 5:53 pm Monday, April 3, 2023

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ADAMS – Tom Clements has played a big role in the lives of many area softball players over the years, and now he’s back in the saddle with a new challenge in mind as he takes over as head coach for Southland this spring.

Clements has over 30 years of head coaching experience, and he also started the Austin Youth Softball program nearly 35 years ago when he was looking to get his then 12 year old daughter, Crissy Weis, involved in the sport. Now, after many years of coaching and mentoring local players, Clements has Crissy as one of his top assistants and he is also coaching his granddaughter Laney Weis, who is 13 years old.

 “I’ve always loved fastpitch softball. It’s so much more fast-paced than baseball and it teaches the girls a lot of life skills, like how to communicate and how to get along,” Clement said. “I’ve already seen the girls talking to each other and trying to help each other get better. That’s the secret. It’s a team game.”

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Clements has already caught the attention of his team and senior Bria Nelsen said early practices have been fun and exciting.

“I think we’re all just excited. We know how good we did last year and now we’ve got Tom, who coached in college and he knows what he’s talking about for sure,” Nelsen said. “We’re pumped. There are a lot of things he says, where we’re like ‘what,’ we’ve never heard that before. He’s a humorous guy. It’s never dull and we’re never bored.”

Laney, an eighth-grader, will be the top pitcher for the Rebels, who went 13-9 overall last season and enjoyed their best season in over a decade. Clements has been working with Laney since she was eight years old and her teams were successful in the summer youth programs.

“In my eyes she’s one of the top pitchers in the area, so we’ll stay in the games,” Clements said. “We lost our whole infield from last year and it’ll be a learning curve for everybody to get back up to speed where we need to be.”

Clements started his high school coaching tenure in Pacelli, and he coached the Shamrocks to a fourth place state tournament in 1999. He led Lyle-Pacelli to a second place finish in state in 2001. This was back when there were just two softball classes in Minnesota.

Clements compiled a record of 113-33 as a high school coach from 1997 to 2002 and he coached six all-state players, including three pitchers.

After coaching high school, Clements spent 11 years as an assistant coach at UW-La Crosse. 

Clements coached the Southland junior high program with Crissy last year, but he was ready to step down and be a fan this spring, before longtime head coach Greg Schulte stepped down from his position.

“It’s a big learning curve and my daughter yells at me a lot and reminds me that these are not college level players,” Clements said. “I always believed that if you treat an athlete like they are upper level, they are going to act like they’re upper level. If you treat them like a little kid, they’re going to act like a little kid. That’s always been my philosophy on coaching.”

Southland sophomore Abby Sorgatz has soaked up all of the knowledge her coach has offered, even when her head has been spinning a bit with all of the new terminology.

It’s been very informative. We’ve learned a lot of new mechanisms and techniques,” Sorgatz said. “There are some new opportunities and new chances.”

Southland sophomore Mya Wagner has already seen improvements in the team this year. The Rebels have six middle schoolers on their varsity roster and just three seniors, but the squad is growing quickly.

With a new coach, every spot is up for grabs.

“We’re making a lot of progress and we’re picking it up faster than we did in previous years,” Wagner said.

Crissy, who went on to play at Division II Winona State University, also coached with Clements at L-P and the two have formed a formidable connection over the years. They have learned to work well together, whether it be in a practice or on a game day.

“Since I coached her, we’re on the same page and we evaluate players the same way,” Clements said. “It’s always great to coach with your daughter and it’s fun to coach Laney. I didn’t have the expectation of being the coach this year, but I would’ve helped her out on the side.”

The Southland softball team is scheduled to play at Glenville-Emmons/Alden/Conger at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and it will host GMLOK at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.