Photo Credit: Jeff Huehm
Dreams come true for those who work hard. For Michelle Cheatham, that simple truth could not be more accurate.
After being unveiled as the new head softball coach on Sept. 12, Cheatham is excited for the future ahead.
“It’s pretty unbelievable for me; this has been a dream. I am completely blessed and honored to be in this position,” Cheatham said. “This school has made a huge difference in my life. It’s time for me to give back to the university and kids with a good experience. I would like to put us on the map.”
Having been with the program for the last eight years, Cheatham took a step away from her original career path.
“It’s been a life-changing career move for me. I actually graduated with an accounting degree and went into the business world for a few years, and, although it was a great experience, I realized that I wanted to influence people’s lives rather than a company name,” Cheatham said. “This has really been my calling. These last eight years I have learned a lot. Being a part of life lessons with these kids and helping them form and shape their lives is really great to see.”
Cheatham became the fifth head coach in the softball program’s history, replacing Amanda Lehotak, who recently left for Penn State. Lehotak was a very influential figure for Cheatham, who assisted Lehotak for two years.
“I’ve learned a lot. I was only under her for two years, but in those two years I think I’ve gained 10 years experience. She’s taught me a lot about networking and how to teach the game,” Cheatham said. “I’ve taken on some things that are important to her and adapted them into my coaching style. My networking abilities have vastly improved because of her and I’ve been able to pick many coaches’ brains, which is something that I’ve taken away from her.”
Cheatham takes over a team that posted an overall record of 27 wins and 26 losses last season. She plans on getting the most out of her players and putting their focus in the right areas.
“The biggest goal that we have is to get the players to believe in the process,” Cheatham said. “As opposed to being outcome-oriented, we will be setting goals for them to meet throughout the season to get them into understanding the work ethic behind everything. If you really put your mind into the process then the outcome takes care of itself. ”
With a larger squad this year, Cheatham feels that there are a lot of strong points and characteristics heading into next season.
“We have depth in all the positions. We have a lot of internal competition,” Cheatham said. “That will only make us that much stronger when we face other teams.”
Coach Cheatham also wants her athletes to be responsible enough to maintain their grades. She emphasizes good academic standing and demands success on and off the softball field.
“My goal is a 100 percent graduation rate. There is no reason that kids shouldn’t graduate from here; they have all the resources available to them. We post academic honors up in the locker room, and it is something we really pride ourselves in,” Cheatham said. “This program is all about being a well-balanced person, so that when they leave here they are able to adapt very well in the workforce.”
Being a well-balanced person is one of the many things Coach Cheatham has in her coaching philosophy. It plays a major part in establishing a winning foundation and attitude.
“I go after the GRIT mentality. It stands for Gratitude, Respect, Intellect and Toughness,” Cheatham said. “Those are the four key core values that I want to instill into my team.”
Having been officially named head coach, Cheatham is already itching to get the competitive games underway. She looks forward to the upcoming season with the same fire she had as an athlete.
“I love gameday, that’s the most exciting part of the season: Getting through the fall and getting us to the point where we’re ready and confident,” Cheatham said. “We’ve got a semi-tough schedule, but we’re looking forward to getting in there and getting our hands dirty.”
That athletic fire is what allowed Cheatham to hit over 35 home runs back in her playing days. Although those days are over, she still maintains that competitive edge that made her a standout player. She believes she can still hit one out of the park.
“That’s usually the first thing to go, but as a confident person I’m going to say yes. It might depend on the day,” Cheatham said. “One of the first things you learn as a player going into a coach is that you don’t get to influence the game as much anymore. You just have to let the players shine.”