Last Friday night, 24 teams converged on Marianna High School and packed the gym with coaches, parents, and state championship hosts for the opening ceremonies of the Florida State Tournament. Marianna had the advantage this year when searching for the key-note speaker. Chipola College Athletic Director and head baseball coach Jeff Johnson lives right here and is always willing to give back to his community.
The teams made their way into the Marianna High School gym, took the seats with their teams with all the baseball decorations you could ask for as done by the many volunteers for the State Tournament. Inflated baseballs identified the team tables and baskets filled with peanuts, cracker jacks, and other assorted baseball memorabilia were placed on the tables along with sports articles from this year’s Optimist Park baseball and softball season placed on the tables compliments of the Jackson County Times. Home plate placemats greeted the players as they sat with their meal, ready to hear what the speaker had to say.
Johnson, well known throughout the baseball world, kept the players tuned in to what he had to say. He talked about building teams to win championships, team bonding, what it meant to be a team player, and what coaches look for when building a team from scratch. He encouraged the kids to practice good sportsmanship throughout their playing days, to be there for their teammates on good days and not so good days, to practice taking losses as graciously as they take wins, and above all keep the game in perspective. At the end of the day, everyone is going to move to a different area of their life, friendships are going to be made off the field as quickly as they are on the field, and everyone should leave that opportunity open.
He praised his National Championship team of 2017 and spoke of his 2007 team, who won it on grit more so than talent and said both were special in their own way.
Marianna High School’s hallways took on a State Tournament appearance from the time all the players, coaches, parents, and guests from across the state. The 2017 State Tournament Directors, the Marianna Recreation Department, the City of Marianna, and the volunteers outdid themselves in putting on the tournament!