NEWCASTLE, Okla. – Numbers.
Chickasaw citizen Mike Crossley isn’t a math instructor at Newcastle High School, but numbers loom large in a 35-year career in this small, close-knit south central community that is home to approximately 7,600 Oklahomans.
Crossley guided the Newcastle Racers girls fast-pitch softball team to 27 state championship contests. The 2019 team was crowned the Oklahoma Class 4A state champion.
He has been named coach of the year two times by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association; once after winning the 2014 state championship and again in 2019. Crossley also has been honored as coach of the year by “The Oklahoman” newspaper.
He has claimed the Michele Smith Outstanding Coach of the Year award twice – 2014 and 2019. Smith, a legend in girls fast-pitch softball, played for Oklahoma State and earned two Olympic gold medals.
A total of 60 Newcastle softball athletes have been selected for Oklahoma All-State honors.
On Oct. 3, 2019, Crossley’s team handed him 1,000 career wins with a 13-2 rout over Cushing. Only two other active Oklahoma coaches have racked up 1,000 victories in their career – Joe Gilbert of Barnsdall and Jerry Bates, who started his career at Tuttle before taking over the Chickasha program.
For Crossley, it isn’t so much about him as it is about the girls whom he mentored, coached, encouraged and occasionally disciplined for 32 years.
“It is crazy how good we’ve been and how many quality athletes have played for Newcastle. This community loves and supports its fast-pitch softball. We averaged 31 victories a year and nine losses, which is pretty incredible,” Crossley said.
Crossley’s dedication to fielding great teams begins early
“One of the advantages I have over coaches from larger schools is I get to see my athletes when they are in junior high. I attend their practices and I know the girls when they are in fifth- and sixth-grade. It is a tremendous tradition we have here.
“Watching kids succeed when you’ve worked with them for years is just priceless,” he said. “In high school, you’ve got to work with every athlete over and over and over. It is not like collegiate ball where it boils down to how good of a recruiter you are. In high school, it’s teaching fundamentals and bringing out the talents each respective player possesses. You never know when that athlete’s particular talent means the difference between winning and losing.”
Pitching is the key to winning championships, Crossley notes. A great fast-pitch arm goes a long way in helping a team with talent chalk up wins.
“Over my career, I’ve had great pitchers, including a Chickasaw athlete. Jadyn Smith was just an incredible pitcher, in fact, an athlete so special she just dominated on the mound,” Crossley said.
She is Jadyn Smith-Wallis today and is head coach of girls fast-pitch softball at the University of Arts and Sciences of Oklahoma in Chickasha. She was named National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Coach of the Year in 2018. She played for the University of Oklahoma and served Crossley as an assistant coach after completing her degree at OU.
This year’s Newcastle star pitcher was McKenzie Wagoner, arguably the finest fast-pitch athlete in Oklahoma, named Player of the Year by “The Oklahoman” following the state championship title game. Wagoner will graduate in May and attend Liberty University, a private Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. She committed to the school when she was a sophomore.
“It is amusing. I was really miffed with McKenzie when she told me she committed to a university as a sophomore,” Crossley said. “I said to her ‘McKenzie, do you know how many quality schools in Oklahoma that will recruit you?’ She said she had made up her mind. Later, I looked up the school and oh my gosh … it is a first-rate team and with outstanding facilities. Dot Richardson is head coach. I asked McKenzie, ‘Can I go with you?’” Crossley said with a big laugh. Richardson also is a legend in women’s softball and an Olympic gold medalist like Michele Smith.
Crossley’s question was in jest. As one of the most successful fast-pitch softball coaches in Oklahoma, he has had plenty of opportunities to leave Newcastle. Other high schools have attempted to lure him away and collegiate level coaching offers have been extended.
“I love it here,” said Crossley of Newcastle.
At 59, it’s doubtful any job offer could entice Crossley to make a move away from his beloved Racers.
“There’s something special here and there has always been something special about Newcastle,” he proclaimed, adding, “I’ve got four players returning this year for an opportunity to bring home another state championship trophy.”