OSKALOOSA — When Jay Harms was sitting in front of the TV in his living room as a 10-year-old watching the MLB game of the week with his dad, he wasn’t imagining being a coach. Fast forward to 2021 with over 40 years of coaching experience and over 900 career wins, the softball field in Oskaloosa from now on will be referred to as Jay Harms Field.
Harms grew up in a baseball family with four brothers and a dad who coached semi-professional baseball for over 25 years. As the team’s batboy, he was a sponge of information from his dad and his players.
Although he may not have thought of himself as a potential coach early on, his dad must have seen something in him from the start.
“I think my dad must have realized when I was quite young I might have the tools to be a coach,” Harms said. “I'd be lying on the floor in front of the T.V. in our living room with dad, watching the Major League Baseball game of the week. And he would say, ‘OK, son. We have a runner on first, a 3-2 count on the batter with one out. If you were the manager here, what would you do?’ I think I probably said something along the lines of, ‘Geez, dad. How am I supposed to know? I'm 10 years old.’ But now as I look back, I think my coaching career was already starting at age 10.”
Harms entered some new territory as a coach when he took over head coaching jobs as a six-on-six girls basketball and softball coach. Harms eventually decided to just focus on softball and took what he learned from his dad and baseball and combined it with many hours and conversations with legendary Iowa high school softball coaches like Larry Niemeyer, Frank Houston and Gary Page at coaches clinics.
From there he would take bits and pieces from his dad — those clinics and time at Charter Oak — and turn it into a program of winning in Oskaloosa. The Indians have won nine conference titles under the Iowa Softball Hall of Famer's guidance with four state tournament appearances in the past seven years including a state title over a very good Carlisle team in 2016, when he also won the Class 4A Coach of the Year.
Harms was emotional when he got the news that they were naming the field after him. He broke down telling his wife the news in his kitchen that night. When he called his daughters, who he coached at Oskaloosa, they were very emotional knowing what it meant to him.
The countless hours being sacrificed, the summers spent at the softball diamond instead of enjoying summer with family. Harms’ family was with him every step of the way but also was a part of some of his biggest wins.
“Molly, our older daughter, was the winning pitcher for my 400th career [win] when Maggie, our younger daughter, drove in the game-winning RBI for my 500th career win,” an emotional Harms said at the ceremony on Friday. “My family was present for our first trip to state in 2014, and they were at Fort Dodge in 2016 so we can all celebrate the state championship together. Softball definitely has been an integral part of the Harms household. And this honor is even more special tonight because the whole family is here. Please believe me when I share that I'm going to be one very proud papa when I watch [my grandkids] play on Jay Harms Field.”
Letters from former players and other coaches were read during the ceremony with the current Indians softball team also handing their coach a signed softball with all of their names on it.
Oskaloosa Athletic Director Ryan Parker made it official at the end of the ceremony.
“We look back at 36-plus years that Jay has coached at Oskaloosa and the number of student-athletes that he has influenced. By naming this field after Jay, that influence and dedication to Oskaloosa High School, and also softball, will continue to live on for many years. He put his blood, sweat and tears at the old diamond down the hill, and now this new diamond. You can't take away the relationships that you build, the wins, the losses, the hot summer days working on the diamond and assured the heck you can't take away that 2016 State Championship. This field will be forever named Jay Harms Field.”
After the ceremony, it was right back to softball and for Oskaloosa, it was right back to winning at Jay Harms Field.
The Indians christened the newly-named field in style with a 7-0 shutout win over No. 5 (4A) Norwalk.
Osky was led by a dominating outing in the circle by Faith DeRonde, who allowed just four hits with six walks and 10 strikeouts in seven shutout innings of work.
Maleah Walker went 3-for-4 while Olivia Gordon was 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs with Abby Braundmeier and Lucy Roach also driving in a run for the Indians.
Oskaloosa (5-5, 2-1 LHC) hosts a doubleheader against Pella (1-8, 0-3 LHC) on Monday starting a 5:30 p.m.