Coach Monica Bray07/10/2015
Think of a mentor, teacher or coach who made a significant impact on your life. We all know somebody whose guidance and wisdom helped make us the people we are today.
For many young boys who played on the Rogers Little League team in the 1980’s, that person was Coach Monica Bray. Back then, Monica was the first woman coach of an all-boys Little League team in Rogers and, quite possibly, the entire state. Today, many of her former players are campaigning to induct her into the Rogers Mountaineer Hall of Fame.
Monica was a single mom, a beloved educator and, as it turned out, a passionate baseball “teacher.” That’s right. Monica Bray taught baseball much like she taught reading, math and writing. She ran practices like she ran a classroom. Monica set high expectations, gave her players direction, and led her team to a championship and, at one point, a winning streak that topped 30 games.
Part of what made Monica special was her commitment to the kids. She created personal goals for each team member and helped them to develop as a ballplayer and as a human being. Monica’s players understood they were out there to win, and they knew she expected improvement from each practice.
Tom Woodruff, Monica’s brother and assistant coach, saw firsthand how his sister inspired her young players. There was a catcher on Monica’s team who hated unpacking his gear during the hot summer practices. He would take every item out of his bag piece-by-piece as if he were lifting concrete blocks.
One day before practice, Monica stopped by the convenience store, bought a frozen Snickers candy bar and hid it at the bottom of the catcher’s bag. She told the catcher that, to have the Snickers, he had to get all of his gear out in 60 seconds. In a fraction of that time, the catcher had his things unpacked and ready, holding his still-frozen chocolate prize in hand.
That was Coach Bray. She knew how to encourage players and how to keep them in the game. Even if it meant doing something as simple as stopping the team pitcher from crying.
Many of you may have heard the quote “There’s no crying in baseball” from the movie A League of Their Own. Nearly twelve years before the movie came out, that is exactly what Monica told her Little League pitcher Brett Austin during a State Tournament game.
Because of Coach Bray, Brett fought back his tears and led the Rogers Royals to victory. Today, he’s the coordinating producer of the SEC Network at ESPN, and he credits many of his accomplishments and successes to the Little League coach who taught him about baseball—and life.
Monica Bray was more than a Little League baseball pioneer. She was a woman who made a profound impact on her young players and used a “Little” League to make a big difference.
So this goes out to all the teachers, coaches and mentors who changed a life for the better: thank you. It’s folks like you who take good players, students, and people—and make them great.