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‘Payne’ful farewell: Successful B-A coach steps down after 13 years

Mirror file photo Bellwood-Antis’ Jim Payne, and his daughter Taylor (left), won a district championship in 2012.

Bellwood-Antis softball coach Jim Payne announced his resignation from the program he led for the past 13 years over the weekend.

Payne engineered one of the more impressive turnarounds in the area softball scene during his time coaching the Lady Blue Devils.

“Jim did an amazing job in his time here at Bellwood,” Bellwood-Antis athletic director Charlie Burch said. “He took a program that was not known for any wins and turned it into a district championship level program. We’re sad to see him go, but he mentioned maybe helping out as an assistant in some way. We’re proud of what he did. Bellwood softball was nothing until he took over and built a proud tradition.”

After several seasons in the early 2000s in which Bellwood-Antis struggled to win more than a game or two each season, Payne helped B-A win a pair of District 6 championships and reach the PIAA semifinals in 2015.

The Lady Blue Devils broke through with their first title in 2012 when they knocked off Claysburg-Kimmel, 2-0, in nine innings in the Class 1A game. Three years later, Payne voluntarily moved Bellwood-Antis up from Class 2A to Class 3A, and the Lady Devils won gold again.

“Both had their own stories,” Payne said. “We beat a Claysburg team led by Ronette Claar, and we had the odds pretty stacked against us. Then we got to 3A as basically a glorified 1A school and upset Bellefonte and a really good team from Yough, which by the way, with the very same team the next year, won states. It was exciting to be the underdog in both of those situations and come out on top.”

Payne, who also was a junior high coach before taking over at the varsity level, went 142-91 in his time at Bellwood but contributes much of the team’s success to a motivated group of girls that joined the team early in his tenure.

“There was a younger group of girls that invested in our program when it wasn’t that appealing to be a softball player at Bellwood,” Payne said. “They planted the foundation. When they valued it and put the time in, that was the reason we became as successful as we became.”

The program’s turnaround didn’t happen overnight, or only during the months usually reserved for high school softball.

“All great softball players are made from May to March not March to May,” Payne said. “What we realized right away is that we had to get the girls playing longer with travel ball. If we were going forward, we had to move forward. We wanted to get girls involved more than just three months. We changed the sport from something the school offered to something girls were willing to invest their whole year in. That made the difference.”

Payne coached both his daughters, Taylor and Ashtyn, during his time at Bellwood-Antis. The youngest, Ashtyn, graduated in 2019.

“I wouldn’t have done it without them,” Payne said. “It has kind of come to define us as a family, especially here in Bellwood and the softball community. It’s something that all four of us, my wife included, embraced. Having that time led to us having great relationships all the way around.”

Payne said he’ll continue to help with the annual 4Mick4thegame softball tournament that honors former Hollidaysburg softball star Mikayla Focht. The tournament had to be canceled this summer, but plans are already in motion for next year’s tournament.

As for Bellwood-Antis, which finished 8-13 in 2019, Payne said the program needs someone to lead it who’s willing to put in the same time he asked from his players during the turnaround.

“I think it’s time for a new set of eyes to take a look,” Payne said. “I think it’s time for a different person to look at it and see what they can do. They can get it built back up. There’s a lot of good talent coming up from the younger kids. We just need someone that’s going to dedicate themselves to that May to March mentality.”

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