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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Donald Hart Named As New Greenwood Softball Coach

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The winning traditions of Greenwood High School athletics are evident in every sport, program, and endeavor of academia within the Greenwood school district. Expectations are high every year, and no clearer example of this is the recent hire of former Paris high school softball coach, Donald Hart, as the new head softball coach of the Lady Bulldogs. Hart will succeed the enormously successful and and popular head coach, Ronnie Sockey, who has moved on to Poteau, Oklahoma as the Pirates’ new head boys basketball coach. Hart, who most recently, led the Lady Eagles to the Class 3A state semifinals in 2021, will undoubtedly face high expectations when he takes over a very talented Greenwood program.

The Lady Bulldogs’ 2022 season ended in the state playoffs with a narrow loss to Green County Tech. Over the past nine years, Sockey revitalized the Greenwood program, leading them to a state title in 2015. In fact, there is much conjecture that if play had not been interrupted due to the COVID pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the Lady Bulldogs could possibly have won a second state title. During Sockey’s tenure at Greenwood, the Lady Bulldogs were 16-9 overall in 2022, 8-3 in the 5A West, were ranked third overall in Class 5A and 20th across all classifications in Arkansas (Max Preps.) In the previous season, the Lady Bulldogs’ record in 2021 was 24-8 overall and 13-1 in the 5A West. Sockey, who succeeded Jim Hillman in 2013, built a dominant Greenwood program that competed at the highest levels in a very tough 5A West conference. Sockey’s daughter, Ally, played under her dad at Greenwood, and last season, was a freshman infielder for the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks softball team. As a Lady Bulldog, Ally was named to the All-State team twice and hit .598 her senior year.

Several other Lady Bulldogs have left the program at graduation and have gone on to play collegiate softball. In addition to Ally Sockey, former Greenwood player Angela Price now plays at the University of Kansas. Price and the Lady Jayhawks played Arkansas at Bogle Park last spring. The Lady Bulldog players’ advancement to the college level speaks volumes to the quality of the Greenwood softball program.

Former coach Ronnie Sockey leaves behind a highly successful Lady Bulldogs softball tradition (Image Credit: (NWAOnline.com)

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Greenwood Director of Athletics, Dr. Justin Smith, about the hire of Donald Hart as the Lady Bulldogs’ new head softball coach. Dr. Smith began by saying, “Coach Sockey built quite a program here and I have the utmost respect for him and the job he has done. He put Greenwood on the map across the state in softball, so I knew there were huge shoes to fill to find a coach to replace Coach Sockey. That process took some time because my goal was not to just find somebody; I wanted to find the right somebody. And so, there were numerous conversations with people from around the region, around the state, surrounding states, and country, even…trying to identify who that person was. We were able to identify Coach Hart and his success. We had a small conversation at first just to determine his interest, let him know who I was, and then determine if he was interested. He said he was interested in us, and the process began. It took on some steam and culminated in our announcement yesterday.”

Dr. Smith indicated that the Greenwood Board of Education hired Hart on Monday, and time was given on Tuesday for Hart to tell his players before a public announcement was made. For the record, I personally commend the Greenwood school district for having taken such a professional approach to the hire; taking the time to make sure that players from both schools were prioritized and not letting the news get out before the players knew of the hire. Dr. Smith continued to say, “I wanted him (Hart) to be able to tell his players in Paris because I believe there is never the wrong time to do the right thing. It was the right thing to do.” Kuddos to Dr. Smith and everyone at the Greenwood schools for this professional approach to conducting school business.

Greenwood is outstanding in all of their programs, and the softball legacy left by Coach Sockey is one that attracted coaching interest from all over. Greenwood could have hired anyone they wanted. So, why Donald Hart? When I asked Dr. Smith that question, he responded by saying, “For me, I talked to our kids and asked them, what do you want me to look for? (in a future coach.) A variety of our players were like, we just want you to find someone who knows the game, who will hold us accountable, and will make us better. So, with those points as our guideposts, we set out on a journey and were able to quickly find in Coach Hart that nobody loves the game as much as him, or knows the game more than him. And that’s a high bar to stand up to, because Coach Sockey was like the “rule book.” He educated umpires and knew the rules inside-out. So, to have somebody who could fill those shoes…and Coach Hart will tell you that those are big shoes to fill. So, Coach Hart checked every box that we had. There are a lot of folks (former coaches) who have come through here and have contributed to our success. That has brought a lot of people desiring jobs here due to the amount of talent we have had come through here.”

When Coach Hart takes the field next spring with the 2023 Lady Bulldogs, he will inherit a program that remains very talented. “The cupboard is not bare”, remarked Dr Smith. “We return a lot of kids from last year’s team, and we have a lot of interest from the incoming freshman class.”

Finally, as high as the expectations are every year with Greenwood athletics, there is a notion of realism and practicality to accompanies the soaring levels of expectations. Dr. Smith explained, “I told Coach Hart that he is not Ronnie Sockey, and that is OK. I need him to be Donald Hart, and to coach our kids, love our kids, and to help build our kids to give them opportunities for success. And that is all we ask of any coach. Put them in the best opportunity to be successful. I think he understands that and he embraces that. Heck, he was there today working on uniforms and other business, so, he has hit the ground running.”

All of us congratulate new Lady Bulldogs coach Donald Hart, and we wish him the best of success at Greenwood High School!

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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