New coach, new year

FSU softball’s Wally King making a big impact

Ferris softball has risen from the bottom of the GLIAC to top contenders under new head coach Wally King.

The Bulldogs had a combined record of 29-56 in the 2014-15 seasons but have started this season 21-9 and 6-0 in the conference. This turnaround is evidence of King’s coaching ability.

Junior infielder Bailey Darwin said, “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had. He understands the game so well and does whatever he can to make us better at the game.”

King’s instructional approach to coaching has revitalized the Bulldogs who are tied for first in the GLIAC. Communication barriers between the players and coaches contributed to their lack of success the last two years.

“We were just told what to do, regardless if it made sense or not. We never got reasoning for what we were doing,” said Darwin.

King brings a disciplined approach to coaching. He gets his players in the positions that suit them and expects accountability. However, he communicates what he wants in a way that has inspired the Bulldogs like never before.

“He’s a good mix between seriousness and knowing how to have a good time,” said Darwin. “He doesn’t just tell us what to do. He gives us reasoning for everything we’re told to do. That’s something we haven’t had in the past.”

King was a Div. 1 associate head coach on a Syracuse team that was king of the Big East for two years, earning back-to-back conference tournament titles in 2010-2011. A player on those teams was the all-time Syracuse home run leader, Jasmine Watson.

Watson, a three-time All-Big East selection, joined King this year as an assistant coach for Ferris after coaching with him for the Orange last season. She has seen a change in King’s coaching approach since he started coaching the Bulldogs.

Watson said, “He was a totally different guy than I was used to. He knew he had to back off a little bit just so he can help them understand the game a little better.”

From filming practices and showing the players or doing nothing but fielding practice for the first week of training, King has micromanaged every aspect of the Bulldogs’ game and has them understanding what it takes to win.

“What we do is break down everything. No two players are the same, so individualized attention is important,” said Watson. “We show the girls how to do it and explain every step of the way.”

King has brought a winning culture. He has turned around a starving program, but this job at Ferris has brought a win to his family life.

“With him being away at Syracuse, it was harder on him and his family because he was away. I’ve seen him be able to go see his daughter play at Hudsonville High School now and I know that makes him happy,” said Watson.

King’s wife, Sue, and their four children reside in Hudsonville. His Michigan roots go back even further.

He was a former standout prep student of Forest Hills Central High School and is an alumnus of Hope College. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology then earned his master’s in social work from Grand Valley in 1994.

He worked as a social worker and special education instructor at Northview High School in Grand Rapids where he was also head softball coach. He also has a history of turning around teams. In his two seasons at Northview, King’s team led the state with 28 home runs, which was a 21 home run improvement over the previous season.

King has had success at every level he’s coached at. Another success story is already being written in Big Rapids, but much is left to be told.