CLINTON — One of the newest businesses here, Waterbury’s Girls Fast Pitch Softball, is also one of its most anticipated.
Longtime resident Bobby Waterbury is building the city’s first training facility for girls fast-pitch softball in the Clinton Business Park just off Interstate 20 West, The 12,000-square-foot facility at 1537 Biedenharn Cove represents a $500,000 investment. It was on track to open this month.
He views his decision to build the facility as “a big leap of faith.”
“We are totally dependent upon the goodwill of our clientele,” said Waterbury.
The facility includes a large open area for instruction, an interior walking trail, batting cages for hitting, pitching machines, work out equipment and bleachers. Waterbury plans to host clinics for students and coaches.
His lease was expiring at his current facility and Waterbury decided to build a new facility in Clinton. He wanted to have an easy to reach, safe facility for his students. They come from nearly every town in Mississippi including eight students who attend Choctaw Central High School in Philadelphia.
Another reason for moving, said Waterbury, was that “we needed more space. We had outgrown the area.”
“We’ve had good response from parents. They tell us they’re glad we’re moving,” said Waterbury.
He began coaching girls’ fast-pitch softball when his two daughters, Jenny and Katie, were small, about 20 years ago.
Waterbury said, “As far as I know, we’re the only training facility for girls fast-pitch softball in Mississippi.”
Waterbury said “in the early days” he didn’t have a business plan, but “I decided I needed one and that encouraged me to build.”
Currently, Waterbury has about 140 students from eight years old to college age. He hopes to increase that number in his new location. Some students have stayed with him for seven years. They pay about $125 a month. Waterbury said some lessons at places like Memphis cost about $300 a month.
Waterbury, who grew up on the Gulf Coast, attended Mississippi College on a track and field scholarship. He graduated from the Clinton private school with a degree in political science. “Little did I know what I did at Mississippi College in track and field would be a precursor to what I do today. I literally threw things in college for discus and shot put. I had to become very fast and technique oriented,” said Waterbury.
He said he had “one of the best track coaches in the nation,” Joe Walker, who is now at the University of Mississippi, to coach him. “He got his start teaching me,” related Waterbury.
Waterbury credits his father, Bob, of Gulfport, with instilling an interest in sports and his mother, Celia, with helping him develop his personality. He also credits his wife, Lynne, a junior high math teacher, who co-owns the business. Lynne Waterbury keeps the books. “I’d never be able to do it without her. She is patient and encouraging,” said Waterbury. He said Charles Evans, a metro area attorney and former track athlete at MC, has provided tremendous encouragement.
He first coached fast-pitch softball at Traceway Park. “I was volunteering at first. I had coached for about three years and developed my expertise to the point where I charged small fees,” said Waterbury.
About seven years ago, he rented a gym in Ridgeland for his lessons. “I got confidence that we could pay for space,” he said.
He knew he wanted to find inside space, because at Traceway “we were always subject to weather and darkness. There was no shade.”
Waterbury spent two year at the gym in Ridgeland and has spent the past 4 1/2 years renting space from Performance Sports off Lakeland Drive in Flowood.
Six independent coaches including his daughters, Jenny Buchanan and Katie Hoggatt, both of whom live in the metro area, help teach lessons.
“We coach all year. It never lets up. In the beginning, we were coaching seven days a week and we cut it to three-four days a week,” said Waterbury, who has kept his day job as a salesman.
Lessons, which usually last 30 minutes, can range from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Waterbury said he hopes coaching at the training facility will become his permanent profession.
The job is not without its challenges, said Waterbury. Challenges include “a lot of physical exertion. I give a lot of myself physically to the lessons. I am a hands-on instructor.”
He also considers it a challenge to develop “good interpersonal relationships with students and their parents.”
Waterbury said two thirds of his students come from outside Jackson and that “there is bound to be an economic impact.”
All of his instructors are “well trained” and bring “their own wealth of knowledge” to the lessons, said Waterbury.
He goes to games as often as possible to see his students.
Waterbury said, “The results give you an immediate feedback.” His instructors also go to the games as much as possible to help them learn by observing.
Waterbury is pleased at the reception he has gotten from residents who welcome the facility.
Alderman Tony Greer said there is a strong demand for a softball training center. “We are fortunate to have this facility being built in Clinton. Bobby enjoys a strong reputation statewide and regionally, and his daughter (Katie) is one of the best pitchers in the country,” said Greer.
He added, “I expect the economic impact of this business to be positive for our hospitality industry (restaurants and hotels). It also highlights the fact that we are becoming a softball powerhouse. Clinton Parks and Recreation continues to win the hosting of national softball tournaments and enjoys a near 100% approval rating by the sanctioning committees.”
“We’re just as excited as we can be about getting him to Clinton,” said Jeff Crowe, president of the Clinton Girls Softball Association.
Crowe, the father of three girls, said one daughter took beginning lessons from Waterbury while another daughter will take full-time lessons in 2007.
“He does a good job. In my opinion, he is one of the best in the state,” said Crowe.
Crowe believes having Waterbury’s facility in Clinton will bolster the city’s recreational softball league and eventually help with the high school team.
Another parent, Chris Collins, also realizes the importance of having Waterbury’s facility in Clinton. His daughter has been taking lessons for about a year. “The only things she has learned have been from him. I think it’s absolutely fabulous that he is moving to Clinton. It’s a unique situation. It’s a specialized training opportunity. Not just any dad who volunteers to coach softball can do it. Those of us in the softball community are excited that he is coming to Clinton,” said Collins, a board member for the Clinton Girls Softball Association.
He said, “The biggest issue with those who instruct are the facilities. Bobby Waterbury is very well thought of and sought after. People want to utilize his techniques He has done a fabulous job with my daughter and the kids he has instructed.
“I sat next to some people all summer (at Waterbury’s current facility off Lakeland Drive in Jackson). They would come once a week, get a room at a hotel and go home the next morning. They were from below Petal. People seek after the way he’s doing it. His way is the proven way,” said Collins.