By Martin Cleary
Ever since Scott Searle was a young boy, he was fascinated by the sport of softball – the pitcher’s intriguing windmill arm action, the rapid player movements when the ball is in play, the compact nature of the game.
And, to his credit, he has never grown out of it. Today, at 39, he has jumped head first into all aspects of local, provincial and national softball, or as some call it, fastball, and he loves it even more.
As a player, he was a dependable houseleague catcher and second baseman in the Orleans Amateur Fastball Association from ages seven to 18. When his playing days were complete, he was an umpire.
But his biggest and boldest move arrived when he enrolled at the University of Ottawa as a history student and heard there was talk of starting a women’s intercollegiate softball league in Ontario. He stepped up to the plate for the university.
As a freshman, he felt like he hit a game-winning grand slam home run in 2001, when the University of Ottawa, York University, University of Toronto and McMaster University formed the Ontario Intercollegiate Women’s Fastpitch Association.
In 2002, Orleans Rebels head coach Chris Mullins became the Gee-Gees’ first head coach and Searle served as an assistant. That was the start of his 20-year relationship with the Gee-Gees’ women’s softball program as either an assistant or head coach.
Searle has hundreds of memories from his two decades in intercollegiate softball, including 350 wins as a member of the Gee-Gees’ coaching staff. That milestone came courtesy of a Twitter tweet from the university.
While he couldn’t believe he had that many wins under this uniform belt, he knows for sure he played a role in the Gee-Gees winning eight medals at the OIWFA championships in 19 years. There was no provincial championship in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the league’s second year, the Gee-Gees earned the 2003 championship gold medal and followed that with silver-medal performances in 2005, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2019, and bronze efforts in 2007 and 2017.
Searle, who is serving as an assistant to head coaches Elissa Sivel and Stephanie Boucher this season, will be chasing the program’s ninth provincial medal this weekend.
On Saturday, the one-day East Regional tournament in Napanee will feature the pennant-winning University of Toronto (10-1-1), second-place Ottawa (9-2), Queen’s and Ryerson. The top two teams will advance to the OIWFA finals on Sunday in Drumbo, ON., against the first- and second-place teams from the West Regional tournament, which will feature Western, Brock, Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo.
Working with the Gee-Gees is only one segment of Searle’s coaching pie. He will be the head coach of the Ontario men’s U21 team for the 2022 Canada Summer Games in the Niagara Region. Searle was an assistant coach when Ontario took gold at the 2017 Games.
A dedicated advocate for women’s intercollegiate softball which earned him the inaugural OIWFA Outstanding Contribution Award in 2015, Searle also is or has been a master coach developer, head coach of the Softball Performance Centre in Napanee, team leader for Canada at the 2018 world men’s junior championship, a member of the Softball Canada board of directors and an NCCP learning facilitator and evaluator.
Women’s softball is one of the club sports at the university, which means funding is minimal and the team basically survives on its own fundraising and athlete fees. But this allows the team to play in the OIWFA and attend the Canadian intercollegiate championship, if they qualify. The Gee-Gees played in their fifth nationals earlier this fall in Kelowna, B.C.
“I’ve always loved this sport. It’s my favourite,” said Searle, who is a contemporary studies teacher at St. Peter Catholic High School in Ottawa. “I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to be involved… at the highest levels and learn a lot of skills. It has created a lot of opportunities. It has been a real blessing.”
Searle remembers as a young boy begging his parents to take him to Perth, ON., for his birthday so he could watch the Perth Shootout, a high-level men’s softball tournament in the early 1990s. Hall of fame pitcher Darren Zach was the main attraction.
Training his players throughout the season is the foundation of Searle’s love of the sport.
“It’s the relationship with the players. I love practising. We work on skills every week. We learn to improve and I love it,” he said enthusiastically.
Being a coach was a natural volunteer role for Searle.
“As a teacher, there’s a lot more transferable skills,” he added. “The ability to teach skills is a lot more natural than being an umpire.”
His time with the Gee-Gees allowed him to be an assistant coach under the late Gil Read of Carp, the Canadian softball team leader at the 2004 Summer Olympics and the coach with three Canadian men’s and three Canada Summer Games gold medals to his credit.
When Searle accepts a role in softball, he wants to do it right and make a lasting contribution. He has had opportunities to work with the best at the provincial and national levels and “it has felt like a dream.”
“Having these opportunities has been remarkable. I’ve been to New Zealand and nine of the 10 Canadian provinces. I’ve loved every minute. It’s my favourite sport and I work with fun people.”
Searle could have remained as head coach of the Gee-Gees this season, but he stepped back to give experience to Sivel and Boucher, who are former Gee-Gee players, and to learn the role of head coach.
“I’ve moved on. It’s important for female athletes to be coached by women,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience doing all the roles. It’s a real blessing for me.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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