By Gregg A. Sims
WASHINGTON — It really wasn’t all that long ago that Alan Lemon enjoyed racing his 1955 Chevrolet at regional drag strips.
He now may have time to try his hand at a race or two in the future.
Lemon retired this spring after coaching softball 23 years for Washington. He will remain as an instructor at the Twin Rivers Automotive Center for one last year.
After that, well the Chevy may be driven once or twice again.
Lemon started at Twin Rivers in 1990 as an instructor. He had worked at a local auto dealership as a mechanic for several years, leading him into the field of instruction.
He had also spent a year or two coaching sons and daughters in youth baseball, softball and football programs as well as at the high school level.
When Washington started a girls’ softball program in 1991, they asked Lemon if he would like the job.
He said sure, for a year until another person could be found.
When the second year came around and no one had stepped in, Lemon said he would stay on another year.
Obviously, that turned into not just a second year, but over two decades of coaching experience.
“I’ve had a lot of good coaches that helped me in that time,” Lemon said. “I’ve had a lot of good players that went off to play in college. I’ve had a lot of good help in that time. It wasn’t just me.”
Slow pitch softball had been played, but fast pitch was a new game. Lemon said teaching the fundamentals of the different game, especially pitching, was the most difficult part of the job.
“We had to develop pitchers because slow pitch had been played,” Lemon said. “It was also difficult in the beginning to just teach the fundamentals of the game, It’s different than slow pitch and that was just something that we had to do.”
Lemon has no idea what his career record is. He says it’s really never mattered much to him.
“I have no idea,” Lemon said. “I doubt that I¹m even .500. I know that I’m not .500. But the wins and losses never bothered me. I wasn’t it in for that.”
He was pleased with the two sectionals Washington won. The Hatchets didn’t make it past the regional, but they were close twice, losing championship games by one and two runs.
“Dwayne Austin who was the coach at Pike Central told me it would take six or seven years to really get the program going, and it did,” Lemon said. “We won a couple of sectionals and came close to getting out of the regional, and some of that was back before class. You always have ups and downs, but I think we did alright with starting the program back in 1991.”
Looking back at his 23-year career, Lemon says he will remember the players who came back to say thanks for his help, the friendships he has made, having the chance to watch youngsters mature and even making friends with the folks who wear the blue.
“I never cared about the money or anything like that,” Lemon said. “That’s not why I got into coaching. It’s about the kids coming back and talking to you about something you helped them with or said to them that has helped make a difference in their lives. I will miss the friends I’ve made in softball.”
Lemon knew he would retire at the end of this season.
His granddaughter Allexis graduated and will continue her career at Olney Central College in Olney, Ill.
Still, he believes he will be an active volunteer with some of the happenings at the complex for the next few years.
“I’ll probably try to help with the mowing and things like that at the fields for a few years,” Lemon said. “I want to still help with some of the things like that.”
Several of the area softball coaches pooled funds and presented the Lemons (Alan and his wife Candy) with a pair of rocking chairs this spring.
Several past players returned for senior night when The Hatchets played a home game against Vincennes Lincoln.
“I was the only guy in the whole place that didn’t know what was going on,” Lemon said. “I looked around and saw a few of the younger players and I thought they were just here to see a game. I looked again, and there were more players. I thought maybe then something was going on, and then they hit me with that. I was really surprised - Kind of brought a tear to my eyes. It¹s been a good ride.”
As for that racing, it was a weekly hobby that Lemon enjoyed until his children grew to the age that they became interested in their own activities.
“I haven’t really said anything really to Candy about doing that just yet, but I think she probably knows it’s on my mind,” Lemon said.
“We haven¹t really talked much about it, but she knows it’s in the back of my mind. We used to go racing every weekend when we were younger and then spent the week working on the car to make it faster. I’m not looking to do it like I used to, but maybe just a week here or there. I still like that feeling off the line - the car pushing against you in that first 60 feet from the start.”