SP’s Keatley was pioneer for girls’ prep athletics

Published 9:47 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

The Ohio Valley Conference made its initial Lifetime Achievement Awards during the 2022-23 school year. Front is South Point honoree Jan Keatley; standing left to right, OVC president Dean Mader, Coal Grove’s Jay Lucas accepting for his father Dave Lucas, Chesapeake’s Bob Harris, Rock Hill’s Steve Lambert, Fairland’s Mike Whitely, and OVC secretary/treasurer Jeff Gorby. Not pictured were Tim Collins of Ironton and Chuck Burke of Portsmouth and posthumously John Milhoan of Gallipolis. (Tim Gearhart sports photo for The Ironton Tribune)

By Jim Walker


SOUTH POINT — In the movie “For The Love of the Game,” Kevin Costner was an aging pitcher who kept playing because of his love of baseball.

Email newsletter signup

If there was a sequel called “For The Love of the Game 2,” an easy casting for the lead would be Jan Keatley.

Jan Keatley

For two-thirds of her life, Keatley spent her time as a player and coach for South Point High School. And the only reason for such a long relationship was simply her love of the game.

“I think it was successful because when you think back to those days, I didn’t do it for money. It cost me money. I did it for the love of the game,” said Keatley. “I had to make it and I had to make it for the kids. I had to make it with what I got.”

Not doing it for money? That was an understatement. The newly hired Keatley said she was told by the school board her pay would be $300 per sport.

That’s $300 for several months of coaching. Let that sink in.

“I said ‘$300 a sport?’ They said yeah. I told them I would do it for $300 a sport to show you that girls’ athletics are here to stay,” said Keatley. “I told them I’m not just going to coach a team. I’m going to build a program and when I do, I’m going to come in here next year and you’re going to pay me what you play the football coach, the basketball coach and the track coach. They laughed and said OK. I was hell bent they were going to pay me what they paid guys and they did.”

Keatley got her raise.

But it wasn’t easy to get the programs started. She talked with the girls in the school and got them to come out for the sports. The legendary coach then related a recent story that explained what Keatley faced when she began building the girls’ athletic program.

“I was talking to one of the football players the other day and we were talking about football and players always have better ideas than the coaches. I said, ‘Did you ever play cards?’ He said, ‘Well, yeah.’ I said, ‘Do you ever turn to the dealer and say give me four aces or four kings?’ He said, ‘Well no.’ I said, ‘You have to play the hand you’re dealt, right?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I told him I learned to play the hand I was dealt in 1976 and I knew there wasn’t anybody who was going to give me a trump card,” said Keatley who coached for 37 years.

“Everybody has a better idea. They know better than the coaches.”

Keatley attended Matewan (W.Va.) High School and went on to play softball on the first Marshall University Lady Herd team coached by Dorothy “Dot” Hicks.

But the Marshall program wasn’t considered the women’s softball team but a team in the women’s athletic department.

“We played what you would call club softball,” said Keatley.

“I was the only one with experience playing against women. I played in a women’s league when I was 12 years old and I played against women who were 30. That’s how I learned to play softball because they like to beat me to death.”

Everyone involved in the Marshall women’s program had only played slow pitch softball with the exception of Keatley. She said a lot of states were playing slow pitch.

Hicks was in charge of the women’s athletics said the players were going to play fast pitch. Hicks was from Mingo County and knew Keatley. She said, “I know you can play.”

With only Keatley knowing what to do and expect playing fast pitch, she admitted it was quite the learning experience.

“We traveled, we played West Virginia teams like Concord and Fairmont State. We did play Ohio State and Ohio University. It was tough because it was brand new. No one had seen the fast pitch game,” said Keatley.

Although she was an excellent shortstop, she was called upon to be the Lady Herd’s pitcher. She pitched almost every game but when she got a rest from pitching during a doubleheader, she was in the lineup as the catcher.

“My favorite position when I was young was shortstop, but I played all over the place. But that’s all I ever wanted to do. My dad used to tell me that he wished I’d do something that didn’t have a ball in it,” said Keatley as she reflected on her formative years.

“If it wasn’t a softball, it was a basketball. I never heard of volleyball until I got to Marshall. I didn’t play volleyball. I was the referee,” said Keatley.

Ironically, Keatley had to learned how to coach volleyball when she was hired at South Point in 1975 after graduating from Marshall. And not only did she coach volleyball, but she coached basketball, track and cheerleaders in those first three years.

“I said cheerleaders? They said yes, cheerleaders. I said okay. That was the job,” said Keatley.

Softball wasn’t approved as an Ohio High School Athletic Association sport until 1978. When it was finally approved, Keatley was not only on the ground floor of high school softball in Ohio but she helped pour the footer. South Point was one of six schools in the Ohio Valley Conference to have the sport along with Fairland, Chesapeake, Rock Hill, Oak Hill and St. Joseph.

Her 1978 team advanced to the Final Four of the state tournament.

“I was doing track practice while I was doing softball drills,” Keatley said who had virtually the same girls on both the track and softball teams. “We’d run down and do some track drills and then go back up (to the field) and do some softball things. It was crazy, but I told the kids, ‘If I’m coaching it, you’re playing it.’”

Not only did Keatley teach school and coach four sports, she used to run a newspaper route for 30 years at night for extra money.

“I would take it to Logan, Wayne, Williamson and back down (U.S. Route) 52 and get home to take a shower and run to school. I slept about about an hour or two every night,” said Keatley.

During her years as the Lady Pointers softball coach, her teams won 31 conference championships, 9 district titles and one regional championship.

“Jan was a good coach and she had a great program, but it wasn’t just about South Point to her. Jan fought for all the teams in Southeast Ohio. She did a lot to promote the game and get fair treatment for all schools in Southeast Ohio,” said Symmes Valley Lady Vikings’ veteran softball coach Jeff “Odie” Estep who himself has now eclipsed 500 career wins.

“Jan was always helpful to me when I was starting out coaching softball.”

Keatley’s success wasn’t limited to softball. With girls sports just taking off in the 1970s, Keatley coached almost every girls’ program and won. He teams also won Ohio Valley Conference volleyball, track and basketball titles.

After she retired from coaching, she was named the school’s athletic director.

Keatley said her favorite sport was softball, but she admitted that she had to work the hardest at track because she had never been exposed to it.

“I spent my weekends going to track clinics because back then there were 13 events and there was no way one person could do all of this,” said Keatley. “Softball was second nature and I liked basketball and volleyball.”

A member of the 2017 South Point High School Athletic Hall of Fame, Keatley has spent almost her entire life associated with athletics in one form or another.

Keatley was a teacher for 37 years at South Point but she wore many hats that included coach volleyball, girls basketball, track and her favorite sport of softball.

Keatley was the first coach to amass 500 career wins in softball and has been inducted into the Ohio High School Softball Coaches Hall of Fame as well as the National High School Softball Hall of Fame in 1998.

As the best player on Marshall’s first team, Keatley was recognized with the current bullpen being named in her honor.

Now that’s one remarkable movie.