On a sign outside the dugout of the Spanish Fork softball team, 25 years of accomplishments are proudly memorialized:
- Region titles: 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
- State championships: 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017
- State runner-up: 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2018 (with 2019 soon to be added)
Any program that has six state titles, seven second-place finishes and 19 region crowns in two-and-a-half decades has enjoyed tremendous success.
But it is even more impressive when all but the first region title was won under the guidance of one head coach.
For the Dons, that individual has been Don Andrews.
“Coaches put in a lot of time but Don — he gave it his life,” said Spanish Fork assistant coach Natalie Jarvis, who has been on the Don staff for 22 years as well. “He’s just very dedicated to the players and to the sport. The kids who have played for him have been very lucky and blessed.”
The conclusion of the 2019 season — Spanish Fork again reached the 4A title game before losing to Tooele — also marked the end of an era for Don softball as Andrews is retiring.
It’s been a tremendous career for a man who never dreamed coaching high school softball would ever be part of his life.
The road to becoming a coach
Andrews always loved the game of softball. Even when he was in the Navy for six years starting in 1974, he recalled a memorable softball experience.
“I was on an aircraft carrier and for some reason I took my mitt,” Andrews said earlier this week. “They called for fast-pitch players one day. The American university in Singapore had called ahead because we were scheduled to be there on the Fourth of July and they wanted a fast-pitch game. We went down in the hanger bay and I was a catcher. It wasn’t my best position but they needed a catcher to catch the pitchers. These two guys were throwing but it was dark in that bay. They threw a rise ball and it went over my head. It ricocheted off the hanger deck and splashed into the ocean. A couple of pitches later it happened again. The pitcher asked how many balls we had left and we only had two, so we stopped. We lost 7-0 because we couldn’t practice. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean are those two softballs.”
After he completed his time serving in the Navy, he returned home to Spanish Fork and got involved in softball games organized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Through those games and experiences, Andrews became friends with Doug Snell, who also was the athletic director at Spanish Fork High School.
“My daughter was playing a soccer game and Doug Snell came over to that game,” Andrews said. “He asked me if I would apply for the softball job at the school. He also told me he was going to have Larry Gardner, who was a local legend, to come and apply. He said he only had one person apply for it and they wanted to at least have a choice. I thought you had to be a teacher.”
Andrews remembered going into the interview process touting Gardner as the man for the job.
“I got interviewed first and they asked me if I got the job if Larry Gardner would help me,” Andrews said. “I told them that Larry was the coach and I would help him. I find out later on that Larry told them the same thing about me and then at the end he said he couldn’t do it because he had to work. So I got the job by default.”
Building a program
The Don softball program was still developing at that point (it was only sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association starting in 1990), but the area had a deep passion for the game.
“I was mean but part of that was frustration,” Andrews said. “I knew what I wanted them to do and they didn’t understand. We talked about ‘wheelhouse’ for two weeks. We were getting ready to start practice and one girl raised her hand and said, ‘Don? What’s a wheelhouse?’ Right then and there I thought I had to back up. They didn’t even know what I was talking about. We spent that whole practice talking about terminology and little things. It was the best practice we had all year.”
He said his coaching style has always been about the fundamentals and said he modeled it after legendary Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver.
“I’m kind of a conservative coach,” Andrews said. “Weaver believed in good pitching, good defense and a three-run homer. I didn’t always get the three-run homer but that’s what I believe in. We have traditionally had good pitching but one thing we don’t get a lot of credit for is defense. We traditionally have had one of the better defensive teams.”
The Spanish Fork head coach also had an experience that led him to begin sporting his trademark sunglasses that he always wore.
“We had a pitcher named Haven Vance,” Andrews said. “She came off the field one time and she goes, ‘Don, you’ve got dagger eyes!’ I’d never worn sunglasses but I wondered who else thought that. When I get anxious, it’s just daggers coming out. Now I can’t go anywhere without them. That was the only reason I started wearing them.”
Jarvis joined the Don staff early in Andrews’ tenure and the duo became the foundation of the Don softball powerhouse.
“I’m a gloom-and-doomer so it’s been much better to have Natalie in the huddles,” Andrews said. “It’s been a very good mix with Natalie. She was the first one I called when I was hired. I just can’t say enough about Natalie and what she’s done.”
Jarvis said working with Andrews became a way of life.
“We’ve both been the good guy and the bad guy but we’ve always been equal,” Jarvis said. “When you are around someone for so long, we know what each other is going to do. It’s been awesome. He’s intense but he is a very knowledgeable man about the game.”
All the memories
Jarvis said Andrews has an incredible ability to remember details about games and players.
“He could’ve given every stat on every girl that has gone through our program,” she said. “He remembers every detail.”
It doesn’t take much for Andrews to recall some of the dynamic moments his team has experienced — both good and bad:
- “Skid”: “We had a girl we called ‘Skid’ because she couldn’t slide,” Andrews said. “We were playing in Brigham City and she came roaring into third and did one of those, jump-in-the-air, hit-the-bag-with-your-feet-type slides and broke the base off the anchor. The base went flying by me in the coach’s box and she just stood there where the anchor was and said, ‘I can’t slide very good.’ They couldn’t get the anchor out, so they had to postpone the tournament and move off that field because there was no third base.”
- Most memorable walkoff: “It was our first very important walkoff,” Andrews said. “There was no fence. It was the state championship in 2000 against Springville. We had a runner on second and Heidi Butler was up to bat. I gave Heidi the bunt signal and she squared around but it went foul. That was enough of that. On the next pitch, she drilled it over the center fielder’s head. I guess officially it was a walkoff double but it would’ve been a home run with fences. They dogpiled Heidi because the game was over.”
- Mud didn’t matter: “Heather Barney would not be beat,” Andrews said. “She wasn’t a true shortstop but we didn’t have one that year so she moved over. We were playing Payson and it was muddy. We got one run up on them but they got a runner on third. They hit one to the right of Barney. I can still see it. She dove to her right in that mud. She jumped up real quick, threw the runner out and won the game. She had no business even catching it but that’s the way she was.”
He quickly remembered other times, however, when things didn’t go how he would’ve wanted.
“There was some ugly softball in those first few years,” Andrews said. “I remember being in the state tournament against Pleasant Grove the year Pleasant Grove won it. We had them. There was two out and they hit a high popup just behind short. My shortstop was drifting back but the left fielder called her off. The left fielder dove and couldn’t catch. They scored and the game was over. I remember those because I take it personal.”
After more than 20 years of working with Andrews, Jarvis has plenty of stories and experiences as well. She said a couple of her favorites were the quirky mishaps that occasionally happened.
“My favorite story came when he was pitching to the girls in a scrimmage situation,” Jarvis said. “He was behind a screen so we were saying that if they hit a ball back to the pitcher they were out. Someone hit a ball back to the pitcher and he went to jump through the screen to pick it up and make the play. But his leg got caught, then he fell and the screen fell on top of him. It was the funniest moment.
“Another time we were on a bus heading somewhere and he had laid down on a seat. I don’t know what happened but he rolled off the seat and got wedged between his seat and the seat in front of him. I’ve never let him let that down.”
Andrews said he learned a lot in 25 years but the most profound lesson was how much he loved working with his athletes.
“I like coaching girls,” Andrews said. “I like to be around them when they are working. I like their work ethic. I have to be correct in what I teach because if I am not correct, they will spend a lifetime practicing something wrong. I learned in the state tournament in 1998 that the highs are higher and the lows are lower but neither last more than a half hour. We were the fifth-place team and beat Bountiful, who was No. 1. We were all happy but a half hour later it was over. We traveled to Bonneville and they beat us. You thought the whole world caved in but a half hour later it was like, what game? That was when I learned that and it’s still true. The girls are great at being team players.”
Jarvis noted that neither of the two have had daughters play for the team, nor did they ever take on the job for monetary gain.
“We’ve had great players but they have been helped with great coaches,” Jarvis said. “We’ve been a team of coaches who did it for our own reasons. We did because we love the game of softball and felt like we could help the game. I have a quote that says ‘A good coach can change a game; a great coach can change a life.’ I think of the lives we have changed and they far outweigh the games.”
Don Andrews’ son Jimmy Andrews has been an assistant coach for the last few years as well and both Jarvis and Jimmy Andrews are now considering the possibility of applying to take over the head coaching position.
“I learned some things I don’t want to do as a coach, since I’m definitely very different than Don,” Jarvis said. “But in my mind, I don’t think I ever really thought this point would come. We’ve just done it year after year after year. In my mind, I didn’t ever want us to be done. I’ve also worried what will happen when we are done.”
Don Andrews said he hopes whoever ends up getting hired appreciate the traditions that have been built by the program in the last 25 years.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone to copy me because they have to be themselves,” Andrews said. “But the biggest things to keep going are the traditions. You can copy strategy but what worked for me might not work for them. Everyone has to find their own path.”