Ohio Valley Unsung Heroes: Russell draws inspiration from softball

WOODSFIELD — Inspiration comes in many forms.

For Mickey Russell, his is derived daily through his family.

And it’s a big one. Not only does Russell enjoy the company of a biological family, his softball “family tree” also has many branches.

“I think about softball, pretty much every day,” Russell said.

It’s not an obsession for him, but he’s heavily involved in the sport in, and around Monroe County.

And, it’s funny, because five years ago, softball was the furthest thing from his mind. In fact, he admits he didn’t know much about it.

“I got a call from an individual with the Woodsfield softball organization,” recalled Russell, a 2009 Monroe Central High School graduate now employed as a detective with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

“He asked me if I could help coach because one of their other coaches had taken another job. I didn’t know what good I’d be, but I agreed to do it.”

Russell is the perfect example of hometown boys makes good. He was a fantastic athlete — a good wrestler who turned to football and had a good four-year career for Jay Circosta’s Seminoles. After graduation, he immediately became immersed in the local law enforcement community, where he was able to help — and be involved — with his own community.

Sometimes, one doesn’t know why they’re put in certain situations. Many times, it’s for a reason they’re unaware of at the moment. That was really the case with Russell. His niece was on one of the softball teams under the Woodsfield banner. But as he coaching tenure began, he quickly realized he was where he was supposed to be.

“My aunt really started my passion for coaching — Janet Russell,” Russell said.

Janet Russell was a well-recognized name in local coaching and when Mikey Russell began his coaching career she was battling cancer. Seeing her do her job like there wasn’t anything wrong struck a chord with her nephew.

“I’m coaching, and I’m seeing her there sick and doing the same thing,” Mikey Russell recalled. “That’s what really kept me in it.”

Mikey Russell’s team rallied from a slow start in 2014 to finish strong. And, as 2015 rolled around, he and his aunt had many conversations — just not about softball.

“I was spending a good majority of the winter months with her,” he said. “We had a lot of talks — about life and family. It seemed like every talk we had ended with softball.”

When practices began in February, Mikey Russell’s team decided on a team name — the Fighting Js — to honor Janet. They hoped she’d be able to see a game in those jerseys. But she died on April 2, leaving Mikey and the players devastated.

“We dedicated our season to her because she’d always been associated with softball around Woodsfield,” Mikey said.

What really touched him was when, at the services, many players came wearing jerseys and carrying softballs, some of which were placed in Mrs. Russell’s casket.

“You could see the hurt in their eyes,” Mikey said, his voice cracking still some four years later, the memory of his aunt still fresh in his mind. “She had a tremendous impact on their lives.”

Since then, Mikey Russell’s love of softball has deepened. He’s heavily involved in almost every facet of Woodsfield softball and coaches a pair of teams, including the travelling Ohio Rebellion squad. That team includes players from all over, including the Claymont area.

But no matter the team, Russell tries to instill the same values in each one.

“Our whole slogan after (Aunt Janet’s death) has been the same,” he explained. “We don’t have our last name on. We actually have ‘heart’ put on. Aunt Janet’s cancer fight showed how much heart she had. I told the girls that everything in life is determined by your heart. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports or 20 years from now when you get a job.”

For Russell, sports are fun, but, in the end, how you play them really matter. It’s the relationships that live on.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls,” he said. “They mean a lot to me.”

If you know of someone in sports in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature as an Ohio Valley Unsung Hero, drop me a line at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com or via Twitter @RickThorp1