Duane Lanham, 56, recently completed his eighth season as softball coach at Owens Community College. The Express advanced this month to the NJCAA Division II national championship game before falling to No. 1-ranked Louisiana State-Eunice. An alumnus of Whitmer and the University of Toledo, Lanham has been coaching softball for more than two decades. He coached Southview for six years, amassing a record of 125-69 and winning two Northern Lakes League titles. At Owens, Lanham has led the Express to seven Ohio Community College Athletic Conference championships, along with trips to the national tournament in 2005 and 2011.
What was the experience of playing in a national championship game like for you and your players?
Obviously it was great. The team was all fired up to get there, and that was one of the goals they set was to get to nationals and then to try and win the darn thing. It was just a good, fun time.
How has the Owens program been able to sustain such a long string of success?
I think, one, the longevity of a coach helps. Second of all, we get all of our kids from lower Michigan and northwest Ohio, so the kids know a lot about us and care about the program. You put the two together and you have a winning combination.
Did you have any kind of inkling before or during the season that your players had a run like this in them?
We did after we went to a tournament in Myrtle Beach [S.C., where the Express posted a 10-0 record]. We played some NAIA schools, and we played some Division I junior colleges, and coming out of there, we felt that the work we put in during the winter months really paid off, because in the fall, they weren’t half the team that they ended up being.
How important is recruiting the local area to you and your coaching staff?
That’s one of our goals to always try and do that, if the talent is here. I mean, I get prospect forms from throughout the whole country and Canada, but I think there’s a lot of good talent here locally. Right now, Owens provides me with 24 full-ride scholarships to hand out, and I’m going to try and educate 24 kids from northwest Ohio and lower Michigan.
What are the challenges of recruiting in junior college, where student-athletes only have two years of eligibility and therefore there’s so much roster turnover?
Well, the first challenge that you have is you’re recruiting kids in and you’re also recruiting them out by trying to get them placed into four-year institutions that are looking at our players. Our success helps that out a lot. If I have a girl that wants to go on to a four-year institution and play another two years, we’re usually able to achieve that. The second challenge is you only have them for two years, so you’re looking at the talents that they have and trying to modify what you’re able to do with those ladies in two years and get everything that you need to get done and be successful.
What was the reaction like on the Owens campus to your team’s success this past season?
People were overtaken by the fact that we made it as far as we did. The volleyball team made it to nationals this year, and we made it back in ‘05. Then they had the national championships in basketball in the ‘90s, but for recent people there at Owens Community College, it was very exciting to have a team finish No. 2 in the country, and that’s something people can say they’ve been a part of, whether they’re teachers, administrators, or students.
Does the future look bright for your program to make another run at a national title next season?
Oh, I believe that we can, but chemistry is the biggest key. I mean, this team had great chemistry, both through competition and support for the players that were out there. I think the kids we have returning got a little taste of the experience of being at the national tournament, and they’ll bring that to the kids who are coming in. Hopefully, we recapture that chemistry and put the hard work in and be there again.
How did you get started with coaching softball?
I got started when my eldest daughter [Jennifer] was 10 years old, and she’ll be 37. I just wanted to spend time with her and my two other daughters [Kristen and Erin] as they participated in softball. [Kristen] went on to play at Wright State, and the other ones played until college came around. So that’s how I got involved.
What caused you to make the jump from the high school level to the junior college ranks?
We helped build the program over at Southview and we were very successful. You slowly know when it’s time to maybe take a step up to somewhere else. Owens had an opening, and I had done a lot of officiating out there at Owens, so it’s just seemed like things came together and it was time to make that move.
What’s the experience been like as a male coaching a female sport?
First off, you need to treat every individual just like any other human being, male or female. Second, you set parameters of a proper coach-to-player relationship. You keep it very professional. And finally, you have to recognize the needs of females are a little different than males, and as a good coach, you really need to learn each and every one of your players and what motivates or moves them. Once you’ve done that, you’re on your way.
— Zach Silka