The Panthers will take the diamond starting their conditioning program on Jan. 30 and in addition to fielding a sophomore strong varsity team this season the Liberty boys will be under the direction of a new head coach.
It will be Joel Moody’s first time as a head coach and his first time coaching baseball, but Moody is no stranger to the field of athletics and coaching in general.
Moody is an educator who splits his work day at two schools. He works at Midway Middle School as a physical education teacher until 11 a.m. and finishes his workday teaching P.E. at Liberty Elementary School located just down the street.
A native of Liberty County Moody has been an educator for the past 26 years. He graduated from Bradwell Institute in 1980 and returned to BI after college in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an assistant football and basketball coach.
He set aside his coaching career to go back and earn his master’s as an education specialist and a doctorate in education leadership all the while staying very close to the sports he loved.
“The interesting thing is that I have not coached baseball; I stayed really close to the sport, loved the game and played as a freshman in college,” Moody said. “I also played golf and a year of basketball in college, so I got a chance to experience several different things.”
The coaching position came open when former Liberty baseball coach David Samuel moved away shortly after the 2010 season ended.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t apply for this position,” Moody said. “I got a call from the principal (LCHS principal Dr. Paula Scott), and we talked about it. And she wanted to know if I was interested and I told her I would have to think about it. I realized that I’m not very busy during that time of the year and it seemed like a good opportunity, so I called Mrs. Scott back and accepted the position. Fortunately, I have a planning period at the end of the day, and that allows me to start getting things organized for Liberty High and the baseball team.”
Moody accepted the position in November and was faced with the tough task of putting together the schedule for the 2011 season, months after many schools had their schedules completed.
“Taking the position on such a late date, it was really hard to get the scheduling done,” he said. “We did end up with pretty close to a full schedule. We have 20 varsity games and 14 JV games, but we were allotted 26 games. Everyone within an hour and a half from here got messages or voice mails or text messages from me trying to secure games and we ended up doing pretty well with that.”
Monday morning Moody was checking the eligibility from his list of potential returning players.
“We only have a few that are returning from the varsity squad from last year, three seniors one junior, one of which didn’t receive a lot of playing time last year,” he said. “We are going to be what I call sophomore heavy on the varsity and there may be a chance that some of those kids will get to play in the junior varsity games and varsity.”
Moody said he was able to evaluate some of the kids, watching them play and practice for the fall ball season giving him a pretty good idea of the potential talent pool returning this season for the Panthers. He also held a meeting Monday morning passing out physical forms for students interested in trying out for the squad.
Moody said he wants to develop his players skills but character development comes first.
“First of all, we want to make sure that we are raising young men and that we are representing ourselves well in everything that we do,” he said. “We have a list of rules and things that you need to follow, and we want to make sure that as a program, we have a clean program, doing the things we are supposed to, getting to class…passing.”
He said his next priority is making sure the team is fundamentally sound.
“Making sure we can throw strikes, putting people on base, improving our fielding skills and try not to give the opponents too many easy runs,” he said. “Those things are on the top of the list behind character.”
He said winning games is something to shoot for but added, “I don’t really know what a realistic goal is. I know from last season they won five ball games but then we graduated nine seniors. I don’t really have a set number. I just want them to come out and work hard consistently for me and have a positive attitude and know that everything we do on the field means something. Hopefully that will transfer to, whatever the number is, victories. Let’s hope it’s multiple.”
The Liberty squad will have a pre-season scrimmage at Bradwell on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m. They open the regular season hosting Johnson on Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m.
“I’m really looking forward to that first game,” Moody said. “It’s exciting that first game as a varsity baseball coach and to possibly win that game is exciting. It’s a new beginning.”