By Ray Conner
It’s always nice to see someone raised in the valley begin to make a mark in the world.
This recently happen to a man that grew up in the valley and played sports all through his youth and into high school. Joe McIrvin was recently given the job as head coach of Centennial High School’s varsity softball coach. McIrvin, along with his athletic family, will take on the rigors of coaching a big school in Bakersfield that expects success.
Personally knowing McIrvin, this writer believes that the softball program at Centennial will be a boon for that school.
Being in sports and coaching himself, McIrvin has plenty of experience and will implement his ideas into a softball program that in recent years has struggled to perform above the grade. The past three seasons the Lady Golden Hawks have went 34-47-1 overall and 20-23 in the South Yosemite League. Two years prior they amassed a record of 48-14, 28-2 and winning a CIF Division 1 title.
It will be up to McIrvin to return this softball squad to the high expectations of success.
Note: this interview was conducted by email and instead of questions and answers, I will allow the reader to absorb McIrvin’s story in his own words.
1. Personal details—family and names—along with how softball became so big in your home. Give details on your family and the sports they played and any additional info you’d like to supply.
My name is Joe McIrvin, married to Tasha McIrvin, formerly Tasha Mulkey. We have three children: Marty, 19, Ashley, 17, and Michala, 15. My mom is Mary McIrvin and I have two brothers, Patrick and Timothy. I also had a sister, Marie, who passed away after a few years battle with Hodgkin’s disease.
Baseball and softball was an enormous part of my life growing up. I think this is because as a kid growing up in Weldon we had extremely limited entertainment options, so my mother did everything she could to keep us kids involved with youth sports. As an adult, people have asked why and how we grew to love the sport so much and the only thing I can clearly remember knowing at an early age was that no matter how much money my family had or didn’t have, on the baseball field all of us looked the same, with the exception being who played better. Looking back I know that I was not always the best and honestly maybe I never was, but my desire to be the best and win the biggest games was always present. So much so that my brothers, cousins and closest friends knew what to expect staying at our place. Baseball, baseball and baseball. Whether that was your initial plan or not that was what you were doing at our house. There is so much more, but it was clearly an obsession at the McIrvin home.
2. What year did you graduate Kern Valley?
I graduated Kern Valley in 1997.
3. Sports played?
I played baseball and football although some poor academic decisions early cost me my freshman year in both.
4. How did the opportunity to coach at Centennial come about?
The opportunity to coach at Centennial High School came about in kind of a bizarre way. See, I’ve coached travel softball for quite some time now. I have many players at many schools in Kern County. I have, as some know, wanted the opportunity to coach in high school for a long time. One day before a travel team practice, I had shown up a little early as usual to do field prep and what not. A senior who plays for me showed up and was quietly getting her gear ready and lacing up her cleats. I asked her how winter workouts for her high school team were going. Her reply was quick as she said, “We don’t even have a coach right now, the athletic director says they will be holding interviews soon.”
I had mixed feeling about what she told me because I was disappointed that these girls weren’t getting the preparation that I know many other kids are. But, I was quietly optimistic that this may be an opportunity to get the job I’ve been wanting. So I went home and told my wife, Tasha, what I heard, she said I should go for it. I found the athletic director’s number, called to inquire and was placed on a list to interview. I interviewed and a couple days later was called and offered the job. I absolutely accepted. Before I was offered the position, l was told by many people that the returning players had actually got together and typed up a letter requesting the school hire me. So, I believe that those kids helped me a ton in being chosen.
5. Previous coaching experience?
I have coached baseball and softball for a combined 13 years, beginning with Little League and other recreational leagues then into travel/club ball. Then, I coached as an assistant for jayvee softball one season and the last two seasons as a varsity baseball assistant to Chase Dominguez in Tehachapi.
6. How does it feel to be coaching a big school in Bakersfield, knowing that they have such a winning tradition?
It feels incredible to be coaching anywhere at the capacity of varsity head coach. The competitive level that all Kern County schools have makes the task that much more intriguing. People in Kern County put a lot of effort into the athletic development of their kids and, therefore, everyone always has high expectations of themselves and their teams. I love having a little part in the whole picture.
7. What are your thoughts on how you can get the players to buy into your coaching ways?
I was fortunate enough to have some very great men coach and mentor me along my youth, undoubtedly the biggest two were Mike Genthner who was my varsity baseball coach and Ken Bell who was my P.E teacher in grade school and middle school. These two people were indescribably important to not only me, but so many others and I’m not sure they even know that.
Starting with Ken Bell, he was clearly a leader among his peers and had the respect of everyone. He was just a special person. He always made me feel like I was a special athlete who could accomplish anything I tried to do and that is instrumental confidence I believe young athletes must have.
I could literally sit here and tell stories of him and Coach Genthner forever. Coach Genthner has a similar personality, but from a baseball standpoint. To this day I don’t know anyone more knowledgeable or capable of maximum delivery of potential in baseball players or teams. A lot of the techniques in practice or games I’ve used for years are things I remember from playing for Coach Genthner.
8. What are your goals as a coach?
My goals as a coach are very simple, I want to implement a program from top to bottom that the Centennial players can be proud of long after they are out of school.
9. What are your goals for the players to strive for?
I want my players to set reachable goals for themselves as well as goals that may seem unreachable. Accomplishing goals is an awesome satisfaction, but achieving something you once believed undoable is life changing.
10. What will you do different from some of the coaches you’ve played under and were an assistant under?
I cannot off hand think of anything specifically I will do different then coaches I have coached with.
11. What are some of the things you’ve picked up from coaches you have played under and were an assistant under?
One thing I’ve picked up from a coach I’ve coached under is called the ‘oppo’ drill. It’s a hitting game I learned from Chase Dominguez in Tehachapi.
12. What does this opportunity mean to you?
This opportunity means a lot to me. You know in the travel/club world you have kids and parents that for the most part like you and chose to be with you. It’s easy to feel respected from decision standpoints, but when you are a high school coach you have to keep in mind that you need to create a conducive environment for those who may not like your style or delivery method.
13. How does the rest of your family feel about this opportunity?
My family is very excited for me and very supportive. Especially my wife. She’s always my biggest help. Although I’ll say I’ve caught my oldest daughter, Ashley, who will be a league opponent at Liberty High School, looking at me funny at times.
14. With the season at hand what are some of the things Joe McIrvin has done to get the program rolling?
With the season at hand, I called a parent meeting from freshman all the way through seniors for every returning or prospective player so that we could meet and I could deliver my vision and plans of how we will function. I must say there are plenty of willing helpers.
15. A closing statement.
In closing I’ll just say, “I’m excited and extremely thankful for the opportunity in front of me, and I will work tirelessly to help these student athletes to the best of my ability. But, believe me I’ll not shy away from asking some for advice or even help.”
The growth of any program starts with a vision. It looks like McIrvin’s vision for Centennial High School will accomplish two things. One, the school has a coach that has a plan and will do his best to make it successful. Two, the athletes he will guide will come to know his passion for making them better athletes and better people.