How do you top what Jeff Lemons has experienced the past few years?
Well, you try falling down for a change – as in skydiving.
That’s what the former Aledo High softball coach did to celebrate his Ladycats winning a second straight state championship.
When they won the first in 2014 he got a tattoo - a small one.
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This, however, was not small. Lemons went way up in the air in a plane and jumped out.
Yes, he found himself hurtling toward the earth, just a thin piece of material ballooning open standing between he and, well, you get the idea.
"Not too bad, worst was the moment before falling out of the plane. After that, it was like a Six Flags ride – 13,000 feet in the air," was Lemons’ description of the experience.
Now, having kept that promise, and having coached the best team in Texas two straight years, along with one of the best in the nation (they were ranked as high as No. 5 in one poll), Lemons is moving on to a new challenge.
Beginning this fall, he will be coaching the Bearcats and Ladycats golf teams.
"Not sure how I’ll top this with golf, but I sure intend to try," Lemons joked about the skydiving experience to end his summer.
Lemons began coaching softball 19 years ago as an assistant at Millsap. From there he went to Weatherford for four seasons as an assistant, helping the Lady Kangaroos to their two most successful seasons in program history – state runners-up in 1999 and undefeated state champs in 2000.
That earned him a job as head coach at Euless Trinity from 2001-2009. His Lady Trojans reached the playoffs for the first time in school history in 2005, and for five straight years through 2009, when he came to Aledo.
His Ladycats won district titles in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015. Along with back-to-back state titles, they reached the state semifinals in 2013.
His career record is 264-156 overall, including 151-49 at Aledo.
His career got started thanks to one of his high school teachers.
"John Chesney, my high school government teacher, asked me to coach senior league baseball after I graduated from Texas A&M. I coached for three years, and decided I wanted to coach at a higher level," said Lemons.
So he took a leap of faith.
"I owned a small machine shop at the time, and sold it so I could get my alternative certification in order to teach and coach," he said. "I always thought I would coach baseball, but while I was at Millsap Sherri Whitling allowed me to work with the softball team.
"I loved the speed of the game, and when I moved on to Weatherford the next year I was fortunate to become part of the softball program under Dwayne Ross. The success we had there helped me meet the right people to become a head coach at Euless Trinity and then Aledo."
Now that he’s stepped away from coaching softball and had time to sort through some memories, there are a lot of them. In fact, there are too many to narrow down to a few favorites, he said, but he did try.
"Obviously the state trips stand out, especially the first time we made it three years ago, and the championships the past two years," he said.
"I remember getting beat 11-0 by Frisco Wakeland, the No. 1 team in the state, in my first game at Aledo. Fortunately, we got much better.
"Lots of great memories from road trips to College Station, and all the special young ladies I was blessed to work with."
And, of course, keeping his promises to the girls is right up there, especially the skydiving. However, getting that tattoo also made him a little nervous.
"Watching that tattoo needle approach my hand last year after we won state is an especially vivid memory," he said.
So why is now the time to step away from softball?
"My kids are getting much more involved in other activities, and coaching two sports didn’t allow me to be around very much. This will give me the opportunity to be more involved in their interests," he said.
Spending time with his family is a top priority for Lemons. He and his wife Carolyn celebrated their 25th anniversary this summer, his son Justin turned 14 in June is entering ninth grade, and 10-year-old daughter Morgan received her first trophy when her all-star team placed second in a tournament early in the summer.
While her dad watched from the stands, not coaching – for now.
"It was a different feeling sitting in the stands as a dad rather than a coach, but hopefully I’ll be able to coach her team starting in the fall," he said.
But Lemons isn’t ready to step away from coaching forever, still being a relatively young man in his early 50s. When Greg Nelson retired after leading the Ladycats to a state runner-up finish in golf in May (and Cheyenne Knight to a second straight individual title), Lemons saw an opportunity to fulfill another wish on his list.
"I’ve wanted to be a golf coach for years, and the timing worked out perfectly when Coach Nelson retired," he said. "My dad was a state champion golfer in high school and I grew up playing. I learned to play at Glen Garden Country Club and love the history of the sport and the values it teaches."
And while the sport has changed, his goals definitely have not.
"My goals will stay the same, help young athletes be the best they can be," he said.