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Jonathan Ray leaving Poplarville coaching role

Jonathan Ray served as the high school volleyball coach, softball coach and district athletic director for Poplarville this past year, but has now moved into the role of assistant principal of Poplarville High School.

Ray’s 24-year coaching career started in 1996 as a graduate assistant for the baseball team at William Carey University before he moved to Sumrall High School where he coached football and baseball for three years.

Then in 1999 Ray moved back to take a position at Poplarville High School, the high school he graduated from in 1991, and was named the head baseball coach.

In 2001 he decided to become the slow pitch softball coach as well after the passing of Pete Jackson.

Ray coached both sports until 2005 when he decided to leave the baseball program behind to take over the fast pitch softball team.

Ray continued coaching slow pitch softball until 2012, where he amassed a record of 245-98 with nine regional championships and a 4A state championship in 2009.

For the 15 years Ray was in charge of the fast pitch softball program, where from 2005-2020 he coached the Lady Hornets to six regional championships and two south state championship appearances.

Ray’s overall record as the fast pitch coach was 268-121-1. He said the years spent with the program made the decision to move on even harder.

“It was difficult, there were a few tears shed. I didn’t make the decision lightly. It was a lot of thought and prayer before I made the decision to accept (the job),” Ray said.

Ray said spending more time with his family and getting to watch his youngest son play college baseball were factors in his decision to move away from coaching.

However, the desire is still there and if things don’t pan out there’s a possibility of his return to athletics. “I joke around and tell people all the time that if I don’t like administration I’ll find a way to get back into coaching. I don’t know what God’s plan for my life after coaching is,” Ray said.

Ray knew prior to the start of the season that this would be his last at the helm, but that was before COVID-19 shut down the sporting world.

While a pandemic is not the most ideal circumstance to be leaving a coaching position in, Ray said the players’ relationship with new head coach Janessa Deckwa will help keep the program moving forward.

“I think part of what helped was to know that Coach Deckwa will be taking over and they love her. It was a natural fit and she’s been here for three years. It just made sense,” Ray said.

One aspect of his coaching career Ray said he’s most proud of is the ability to prepare his athletes for opportunities after high school. During his tenure at Poplarville, 34 athletes moved on to play softball after high school and that accomplishment is one that sticks with him.

“My coaching responsibility for the program was to give students whatever they needed to get to the next level,” Ray said.

Moving on after a cancelled season is a strange position to be in, but Ray knows his players will be alright, even if leaving now does seem to leave some business unfinished.

“That’s been tough to deal with because I thought we had good a opportunity to win the region. It’s kind of a bummer, but it is what it is,” Ray said.

During Ray’s lone season as the volleyball coach he led the Lady Hornets to a 6-7 record.