February 17, 2018 11:49:09 PM
All of Megan James' coaches have a story.
Bobby Taylor recalls a time not too long ago when James and senior classmate Kiley Cox took it upon themselves to move a screen after practice. The players weren't asked to do, but they saw something that needed to do be done and helped with the cleanup.
Billy Ray Lee has a picture of James when she was just starting out with the New Hope High School softball program. The picture, which Ray has saved on his phone, shows James made up with a darkened mustache to look like her coach.
But Tupelo Express softball coach Deangelo Westbrook has an even better tale. It's better because he has a nickname to go with it.
"She's a dirt bully," said Westbrook, who has coached James for the last two years on the travel ball circuit. "It is just the way she plays, the knowledge she brings to the game, the grit she brings to the game. She is not going to be outhustled."
All of the coaches will have another story to tell after they were on hand Friday to celebrate James' decision to play softball at Itawamba Community College in Fulton.
The coaches will be able to recall the blue-frosted, white cake or the circular cookies with yellow frosting to look like softballs at the ceremony. There also was a photo collage that included pictures of James playing softball throughout the years. Her ceremony in the school's library helped bring that journey full circle with the start of her senior fast-pitch season set to begin next week.
Westbrook has been coaching travel ball for the last six to seven years. He has seen plenty of talented players come out of this area and feels James belongs with them.
"She is an awesome kid and an awesome athlete," Westbrook said. "She is one of the best I have seen around."
James has played catcher and in the infield with the Express. Westbrook said James is "dedicated" to the game and "leaves it on the field."
Taylor and Lee, who have coached James in slow- and fast-pitch softball, share those sentiments. Both coaches agree James is a dirt bully. They also feel she possesses several other qualities that will help her make the move to the next level.
"She is good on both sides of the ball," Taylor said. "She squares up the ball better than anybody I have seen in fast pitch. She hits the ball good. Defensively, she has a quick release and she is a good, defensive catcher. She will be missed."
Said Lee, "I told Megan the other day she was one of the best players I have seen in a long, long time -- that is high school baseball, softball. She is one of the hardest-working players I have ever had.
"She is special. They are getting an excellent player, somebody I would be proud to always have on my team. She is a super girl."
James said she was proud to receive the "Dirt Bully" award from the Express. She said the honor signifies she isn't afraid to get dirty or to say anything to anybody.
"I don't keep things to myself," James said. "It is just out there."
Westbrook said James is a leader on the field and doesn't have a "filter" when she plays. He said she is very vocal and is going to tell it like it is. Most importantly, she won't be outworked.
James said she knows she will have work to do to compete at ICC, but she said her years of playing the game have prepared her for the next step.
James said she knew immediately ICC was the best place for her because she liked the players and the program coach Andy Kirk has built. She said she started playing T-ball when she was 4 years old and then moved to tournament ball when she was 7.
Thinking back to all of the time spent traveling and to everything she missed while she was playing softball, James said it was all worth it to get a scholarship and to have a chance to realize her ultimate goal to play softball at a four-year school.
"I have definitely had my bumps in the road," James said, "but nothing has ever stopped me from getting to where I want to be. I have always wanted to play softball, so I just continued to pursue my dream of playing college softball.
"It kind of feels unreal because you never think any of your dreams are going to come true or (all of the hard work) pays off, but it definitely did. I am very thankful for the coaches and family who have pushed me and helped me get to this point because I don't know where I would be without them."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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