COVINGTON, Ga. – It’s a Monday afternoon in early June. School has just been let out for the summer, and high school baseball season has entered its hibernation, eagerly awaiting the next spring.
But as I pull up to Alcovy High School to meet with newly appointed baseball head coach Jimmy Hughes, I notice a group of baseball players, doing some aerobic stretches in the parking lot.
I park, and survey the team, looking for coach Hughes. I cannot find a coach anywhere until I notice a player who looks just slightly beyond his high school years participating in drills. That’s right. Not only is coach Hughes having his team practice today, but he is out there with them, working alongside his team.
Now if you’ve been introduced to Hughes before this scene, this may not surprise you. From the day he took over the virtually nonexistent Alcovy baseball Twitter account, his intensity has been felt all throughout the area’s sports Twitter-sphere.
In fact, his hefty Twitter presence spiked the curiosity of a certain sports writer for The Covington News (me) enough to entice him to go check out the new energy around this program for himself.
“I want our social media presence to be there because I want people outside of just our program that are within the fence to be excited about what we’ve got,” Hughes explained.
For an Alcovy program that has not had a winning season since 2013, you may be tempted to ask, “What is there to be excited about?” The answer is clear – the culture.
Upon arrival, one of Hughes’ most clearly stated goals for the program has been to change the culture within the baseball program.
“The biggest thing is I want to make this program something the school is going to be proud of,” he said. “I don’t want it to be the whipping boy of the region. I don’t want it to be the whipping boy of the county.”
With this goal set in mind, Hughes knows what this overhaul will require.
“The biggest thing is we’ve got to give maximum effort in everything we do and, we have to be willing to do things we haven’t done before,” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to change how we prepare in the weight room. We’ve got to be willing to change our practice efforts. We’ve got to be wiling to change what we do out outside of the field as far as our conditioning and our diets. And as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve got to have fun.”
Having fun is a key component of the new coach’s coaching mantra, “intense but loose.” And while his intensity is felt immediately upon meeting him, it’s not the scream-in-your-face chew-your-butt-off brand that you may expect.
Rather, it’s found in his discipline, love for baseball and the relationships he builds.
“To me a coach should be more than just the X’s and the O’s,” Hughes said. “He should be trying to build that relationship and trying to build that trust and really model what the life is supposed to be like.
“That’s something we are trying to get within our program, so that when people look at us they don’t just notice that we are improving on the field but that we are improving in every facet of our life also. Our guys are going to be expected to sit on the first two rows in the classroom. I’ve laid the gauntlet down that I want our kids to have the highest GPA in the building. It’s more than just baseball for us. We are trying to be that life changer that, in my eyes, God has called us to be.”
As Hughes runs sprints with his team, does stretches with them and teaches them intentionally, and hands on, he is building a culture that should reap hefty rewards for Alcovy on the field, and in the players’ personal lives.
“I know we are off the beaten path a little bit, but if you perform, people will see it,” he said. “To quote (the movie) Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, people will come.’”