Bell County softball coach J.W. Campbell has stepped down from that position, informing the school of his decision last week.
“There’s never really a right time to go — there are kids there at Bell County that I would have loved to have stayed and coached — but there has to be a time and I really felt like going out with the group I went out with was the right thing to do,” Campbell said. “I’m not old, but I’m older and I felt like it was the right time.”
He made it clear that his reasons for leaving had nothing to do with any changes in the school’s administration.
“The folks at Bell County went out of their way to show they were very appreciative,” Campbell said. “The administration has more than supported me.”
Campbell first made his mark on 13th Region softball by building the Middlesboro Lady Jackets into a state power. Coaching at MHS from 1999 to 2006 he led the Lady Jackets to six straight regional titles, including fourth place finishes at the state tournament in 2003 and 2004. His Lady Jacket teams also placed fifth in the state twice and won the State All ‘A’ Classic in 2004 when they went 39-4.
After taking a couple years off Campbell returned to coaching at Bell County in 2009 and turned that program around after going 9-19 in his first year. In four years with the Lady Cats he compiled a 76-50 mark. Overall he has a 315-105 record over twelve seasons.
“I’ve got to do more than I ever dreamed would be possible in softball. It’s been a fantastic career,” he said. “I feel like the Lord has gifted me with the ability to coach. I’m just a poor boy from the country and really appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to coach at Middlesboro and Bell County. I’ve been fortunate to have some very good players at both places.”
Referring to his competitive nature on the field that sometimes rubbed opposing coaches the wrong way, he said: “I’d rather for those people to talk to me off the field. I think they’d see me as a different person. Our way isn’t the only way, but it is the way we’ve always operated.”“
Campbell said he didn’t make the decision to resign overnight, but had been mulling it over all summer. His two assistant coaches at Bell, Billy Arnold and Tom Gambrel, both resigned after last season. While that wasn’t the deciding factor, Campbell said it did weigh in his decision.
“You have to have the right people around you and Billy has played a big role in the success we’ve had at both Middlesboro and Bell County,” he said. “You know, I’ve had the opportunity to see the county from both sides and without coaching I never would have been able to do that. You learn that the folks on the other side are good people too.”
Campbell plans to spend more time hunting and fishing in the spring, but added that he wasn’t leaving the sport entirely.
“I’ll still be around as a member of the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association. I’m going to miss the competitive side of it but I won’t miss the problems,” he said.
He also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of another comeback.
“I won’t say I’ll never coach again, but it would have to be the perfect situation.”
Bell County is just starting the search for a new Lady Cat softball coach.