THATCHER — Earlier this year, local favorite EAC coach Kate McCluskey was inducted into the ACCAC Coaches Hall of Fame.
While it’s an individual recognition, McCluskey made it very clear that this is really Eastern Arizona College’s — along with everyone else involved — award.
“I’ve been through three presidents and three athletic directors, and softball is the same as every other program. All our sports are funded the same, supported the same. I get just as much booster support, AD support. Softball is the same as a football program in everything other than numbers. The presidents, the athletic directors, the administration, the board — if you cannot succeed at Eastern Arizona College being a student or person that works here, they have provided every opportunity for success. It comes down to the individual to make the most of it.
“Everybody works together for three reasons: to get them across the stage, get them transferred and maybe win a few ball games along the way.
“It’s very humbling to have someone say your name, to have people stand up and clap for you. Then you have to sit back and think of all the people who have put you in a position to succeed. All of the assistants I’ve had —and I’ve never had an assistant who fought me for my job. I even hate the word ‘assistant.’ We’re all coaches, and we fight for the same three goals. It’s never an individual thing. I’ve never had a coach undermine me or ask me, ‘Hey, Kate, what if we do this?’ We listen to each other and we work with each other.
“I can give you a ton of names as far as assistants, and most of them local. Most of them have played for me and are alumnus of EAC. Bob Hammut, Mike Skinner, Scott Skinner, Tracy Reidhead (who didn’t play but his kids did) —these are some young men who have come into our program. Everyone who comes through this program has a reason to be here. I’m very fortunate.
“You know, I look back even now and, looking at pictures, I can name 90 percent of them. We had a little reunion a few years ago and over 100 people showed up. Just the support group . . . you put yourself with good people and good things happen, and these are still friends today, the coaches I still communicate with. Now the kids are coaching on their own. You see them and their lives on Facebook and you’re proud. You’re looking at their families. You had a hand in that. The coaches that make you want to be a better coach are a little feisty, like me. It makes you want to be a better coach and help your program work a little harder for them.
“We’re just so lucky that a lot of people come back. When kids leave here, they don’t want to leave. For whatever reason, Eastern Arizona College puts up a good showing that they’re going to miss us. They call back and come back. Graduation is the most fun I have, but it’s like you say goodbye for a month. It’s hard to say goodbye to the kids in the program because you’ve had them for two years.
“Some of these kids, they’re first-generation college. Some come in with low grades, and after four semesters, they’re still graduating, and you know you had a part in that. Some come in with great skills and they’re easy to move on, and they’re great kids. I could think of a million names, but there wouldn’t be enough room for them on the plaque.
When asked about who she’d love to thank, McCluskey sat back in her chair and let out a deep breath.
“Good Lord, the people who still come out and watch us that have followed me for years, they still come out and watch us no matter who our team is. Dr. Doreen Chancellor has a scholarship set up for softball. The athletic directors, Ladd Mullenaux, who passed away, Chuck Lavetter, Jim Bagnall, the presidents. I was here for: Gerald Hoopes and Mark Bryce, and now I’m here for President Haney.
“The teachers that put up with us being out of classes . . . they know their classes are as important as our practices. The people in the cafeteria, the people in the dorms that have to put up with being up every night because everyone’s raised differently.
“There are a crapton to thank. We can’t say them all by name. There’s also the local schools who still come out and support our program, the parents who send their kids to our clinics. Gosh, the people who still come out and watch, the guys who sit on the hill. We put on a show and they want to watch it. Every person who has come through our program and helped in it is so valuable because we’re coaches just doing our job, trying to work with kids who come from different backgrounds. But when they leave here, they’ve all been treated equally and have the same opportunities for success.
“Some make it, some don’t, but they’re the ones who’ll call you back and say they wished they’d tried harder, thank you for opening my eyes, or something like that. Those phone calls a year or two later really make your day. You don’t do this stuff for a thank you. You can’t be offended, you can’t take it personally. You just do it because it’s the right thing to do and you enjoy doing it.”