By Nate Thompson

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – When it comes to important life decisions, coaches often tell their student-athletes that their priorities should be family, school and sports, in that order.

Two coaches in the Oakridge softball program recently followed those moral guidelines when they made difficult decisions to step away from the team.

Former Oakridge softball coach Joe Coletta (right) stands with new coach Sharon Schumann, who is out on maternity leave, and her husband Jake Schumann, who is the interim coach of the team. Photo/Shery Wahr

That led to a rapid change of leadership for the Oakridge varsity.

Longtime Coach Joe Coletta retired following the 2019 season so he could be free to watch his son play baseball. His replacement, Sharon Schumann, never got a chance to coach last season because it was cancelled, and temporarily stepped aside this year due to the arrival of a new baby.

That has left Schumann’s husband, Jake Schumann, running the team this season as the interim head coach..

Despite the coaching carousel, the mighty Eagles have not skipped a beat. They are currently 16-0, with 14 wins coming via mercy rule. The highlight of their season so far was a fifth straight Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Softball Tournament championship last Saturday, and there’s no telling how far the team could go in the state tournament.

“We’ve been hitting the ball really well, our defense has been solid and we’re pitching really well,” said Jake Schumann, who has been coaching with longtime Oakridge assistant Red Pastor. “When you have all three of those aspects going in your favor, you’re going to be tough to beat.” 

A legendary coach retires

Considered among the deans of softball coaches in West Michigan, Coletta  had a stellar 267-122 record during his 13 seasons leading the Eagles program. His tenure included seven district titles, five West Michigan Conference championships, and one regional crown.

Coletta said he tried to instill the same lessons and values in coaching softball that he learned as an assistant coach for 25 years under legendary Oakridge football coach Jack Schugars. Coletta was on staff for two state championships with Schugars, as well as two runner-up finishes.

Longtime assistant coach Red Pastor (left) talks with Jake and Sharon Schumann, with their new baby Kai, on the field during Oakridge’s matchup with Mona Shores. Photo/Sherry Wahr

“When I was student teaching, Jack and I met for the first time, and he was actually the guy that recruited me to come over from Ravenna,” Coletta said. “Jack’s been quite the influence on me, and I’ve always considered him to be an exceptional mentor to me. And really, the way I coached softball is patterned after him.”

Coletta said when he started, the Oakridge softball team was down, and its field “was rough, probably one of the worst in the area.”

“The investment people have made at Oakridge to help us turn it around says it all,” he said. “This community has a passion for sports and kids, and the two go hand-in-hand. Football has been No. 1 here for a long time, but people really support the kids, I’d say more so than the sport. 

“A lot of schools have a town, but there’s not really a town here, so the school is a rallying point for our community. And it’s a tight-knit community.”     

Coletta’s final season, in the spring of 2019, arguably produced his finest team. The Eagles roared their way to a 33-4 record and gave Escanaba all it could handle before falling 1-0 in a nine-inning thriller in a regional championship game.

“They ended up winning the state championship, so (that loss) was even more tough to swallow,” Coletta said. “Our team was pretty special. We were pretty solid everywhere.”

Oakridge catcher Andrea Romero gets ready for a low and inside pitch. Photo/Sherry Wahr

Coletta decided to go out on a high note in the wake of that great team, because he wanted to spend more time watching his son, Ty Coletta, play baseball at Oakridge.

Coletta, a weightlifting and physical education teacher at Oakridge High School, said he didn’t realize he was looking at his eventual successor when he was part of the committee that screened candidates for a new health and physical education teacher at the school.

Sharon Schumann was the candidate who got the job, in the fall of 2019.

“The primary reason for her coming to Oakridge was the teaching position,” Coletta said. “Softball, at that time, was an afterthought.” 

Luckily Schumann had an extensive background in the sport, so she was ready and willing to take the coaching job when it was offered before the 2020 season. A former Division 1 All-State pitcher at Grand Rapids Northview, she played softball collegiately at both Bowling Green and Wright State. She later played in a professional fast pitch softball league, where she met her future husband, Jake Schumann, who was on the coaching staff with her team, the Akron Racers.

Jake Schumann, a native of St. Paul, Minn., played junior college baseball in Oklahoma and finished his career at Ball State before he got into coaching softball. 

Unfortunately Sharon Schumann’s first season of coaching, in the spring of 2020, never got started due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cancelled all spring sports in Michigan. She was completely ready to start anew this season, but her plans were altered once again, thanks to a new addition to her family.

Sharon gave birth to her second child in early April, a boy named Kai. Jake and Sharon also have a 2 ½ year-old son named Jaxon.  

“It wasn’t planned that she’d miss this season, but once we found out that her due day was the same day that the softball season started, we knew we’d have to adjust,” Jake said. 

“Our administration here has been awesome, and we’ve been really lucky it’s been such a smooth transition.”

The simple plan was to promote Jake from assistant to head coach for a season while Sharon was on maternity leave. It helped that he had also accepted a teaching position at Oakridge, so the promotion was seamless.

“He said he’d do it for this season only, but then he’d give it back to me,” Sharon said with a laugh. “No hard feelings.”

Coletta coming back to help with team?

Jake Schumann said the Eagles are a young team this season, with four freshmen on the roster, but the program that Coletta built continues to produce victories. 

“We don’t really have what you would call a true captain,” Jake said. “But if you look at our stats, top to bottom, we’re pretty solid.” 

One player who leads by example is senior shortstop Hayden Ruel, who earned All-State honors as a sophomore and is having another great season, with a .352 batting average and 13 RBIs so far.

Kaelinn Jozsa delivers a pitch for Oakridge. Photo/Sherry Wahr

Oakridge also has three rock-solid pitchers, led by ace Brooklyn Galdeen, who has an 8-0 record with 68 strikeouts and a 1.74 earned run average in 52 innings on the mound. Freshman Kaelinn Jozsa has a wicked fastball, and No. 3 hurler Jasmine Pastor would be a star pitcher on a number of other teams, the coach said. 

Through it all, Sharon is tackling a much more important job at home, but she remains committed to the program. Even during the Eagles’ chilly season opener against Mona Shores, she was there to watch,  with 10-day old Kai bundled up in a baby carrier around her chest.       

“I’ve been to almost every game and the few that I haven’t, I’ve tried to at least follow every game through text updates,” she said. “This has seemed like the fastest six of seven weeks of my life, with all that’s going on with our family, but the team really is in amazing hands.” 

Even while she spends a season away from coaching, Sharon says she has been learning a lot from her conversations with Coletta.

“Joe and I talk almost every day about softball,” she said. “We work together, and we share a gym for two periods. So we’ve had many conversations not only about Oakridge softball, but maybe even about a game we watched on TV the other night. He’s shared stories about his experiences here and has really been a great mentor for me.” 

When Sharon finally makes her head coaching debut next spring, she may have an extra assistant coach to go along with her husband and Pastor.

Coletta plans to retire from his teaching position in June, ending a 39-year career in the school district. Sharon says she would love for him to maintain a connection to the school and softball program by rejoining the staff next spring.

“I mean, Oakridge is in his blood,” she said.

Coletta joked that he is being recruited again, just like Schugars recruited him to the school so many years ago.

“Sharon is trying to convince me to come back as an assistant next year,” Coletta admitted. “Let’s just say there’s a very realistic chance it may happen. I really miss it. I enjoy the game.”