A long and decorated career at Clarke County has come to an end.
Susan Grubbs — whose 31 years as softball coach for the Eagles made her the longest-tenured head coach for any sport at any of the five local high schools — informed Clarke County Public Schools of her retirement on Wednesday.
Grubbs went 387-262-2 during her 31 years at Clarke County and was a 10-time winner of The Winchester Star’s Softball Coach of the Year award. No other coach has won the award more than five times since the award’s creation in 1985. Grubbs won at least a half dozen district championships during her career and led the Eagles to the only state tournament appearance in school history in 2012, when the team went 23-4 and set a school record for victories.
The 54-year-old Grubbs said the demands of the job — which include more dealings with parents than what she was accustomed to in her earlier years — made the 1983 Clarke County graduate feel like the time was right to leave the program in the hands of someone else.
“It’s gotten to the point where parents in high school athletics are very involved,” Grubbs said.
Grubbs said her love of softball hasn’t diminished though. And she doesn’t anticipate being done with the sport that she’s loved her whole life.
Grubbs returned to Clarke County as a mathematics teacher after graduating from James Madison University, back in the days before the Dukes had an NCAA softball team. (Grubbs said she is a Hall of Famer in JMU’s intramural program.) Grubbs spent one year as an assistant in 1988 and was hired as head coach in 1989.
“The opportunity to come back and coach my high school team meant a lot to me,” Grubbs said. “It was a great opportunity. I have a lot of pride in our program.”
She was hardly the only one in the family to feel that way. Since 2001, the softball field has been named after Grubbs’ father, Charles, for the continuous work he had put in on Clarke County’s field. The Eagles have been playing at the same place next to the old high school building since 1990. Charles Grubbs was involved in the initial development of the field and worked continuously to improve it before passing away in 2016.
Grubbs said it was a special feeling to lead her team on a field that meant so much to her family. Her father left the Clarke County school board in 1987 so Grubbs could be hired at Clarke.
“Anytime anything needed to be done to the facility, Susan was calling dad,” Grubbs said. “My parents came to my games home and away a lot of times when I was coaching. My family’s always been there to help me with the field and the program.
“The field has a lot of heart and soul in it. A lot of our softball parents, not just my parents, helped a lot over the years. I can still remember cutting off sod for the infield in the first summer, and digging holes for the backstop.”
Grubbs also got the chance to pass on her love of the game to the next generation of her family — nieces Emily Braithwaite (class of 2004) and Laura Braithwaite (class of 2006) and current junior Whitney Grubbs, who only played for a week this season before suffering an injury.
The people who Grubbs didn’t share bloodlines with are a big part of Grubbs’ family, too. Grubbs joined Facebook in 2012 as part of the 25-season anniversary for players at Clarke County, and it allowed her to reconnect with a lot of people and bring back a lot of special memories.
“Seeing the girls and the joy that they had, seeing them in school and then seeing them blossom, has been great,” Grubbs said. “The relationships are the most important thing, more than the wins and losses.
“We had people fly in from that reunion, and a few falls ago we had an alumni game. I can go to the ballpark anytime and run into girls whose kids are now playing ball, which is really cool.”
With only seven losing seasons, Grubbs typically had a lot more wins than losses. Of all the teams that Grubbs has had, the 2012 team definitely stands out because of the history it made.
“That was an awesome run,” Grubbs said. “It was kind of getting the monkey off your back.”
Grubbs also enjoyed watching the 1997 and 1998 teams perform, but those squads were blocked from the state tournament by a powerhouse Brentsvile program. Those were two of the years Grubbs won The Star’s top coach award. She first earned the honor in 1991 and also claimed it in 1992, 1998, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2017. Her players also combined to win eight Player of the Year awards.
This year’s Eagles had a difficult 6-15 season. But since there were no seniors on the team, Grubbs believes the future will be bright.
Grubbs said might not be done coaching softball despite her retirement from her position. Even if she doesn’t coach high school again, she said she might consider coaching Little League softball in Clarke County.
“I love the game,” Grubbs said, “and I love to teach.”