Back in November, Geneva principal Michael Crews posed a question to Brent Johnson, the newly-hired assistant principal who was also the head boys basketball coach and softball coach.
“I told him if we could get you out of both (sports), you tell me who would you hire in softball?” Crews recalled. “I said give me three names and he said, ‘Bell, Bell and Bell.’
Johnson was referring to Slocomb head coach Ashley Bell.
Now six months later, Johnson is relinquishing his duties as softball coach to focus full-time on his assistant principal role at the school and Bell has been hired to take over the program.
Bell, a former University of Alabama standout from 2006-2009 who was part of U.S. national teams from 2009-12, was officially hired by the Geneva City School Board on Thursday.
She comes to Geneva after five seasons with the RedTops softball team. She amassed a 107-82 record over four complete seasons at Slocomb despite playing in highly competitive Class 3A, Area 3 with the likes of Houston Academy, Wicksburg and Providence Christian.
Her Slocomb tenure was highlighted by a state runner-up team in 2017 that finished with a 35-14 record. She was named the Dothan Eagle Coach of the Year following that season.
She takes over a Panther softball program that has been a strong one for nearly a quarter of a century with three state titles in slow-pitch in the late 1990s and early 2000s and continued success in fast-pitch through several coaches, including Johnson, who guided the program to 153 wins and two top four state finishes since 2016.
“They have always been a strong program,” Bell said of Geneva. “Coach Johnson has done a great job with them. They are always very competitive and a team you see on the schedule and say, ‘That is going to be tough.’ I am excited for this next chapter in my career and looking forward to working with the girls and picking up where they have been.”
The coaching change is in the second in a couple of weeks at Geneva. The school hired Rodney Jackson as the boys basketball coach to replace Johnson.
Johnson, a 1998 Geneva graduate who has been coaching and teaching at the school since 2012, said the demands of the assistant principal’s duties, a 12-month job at the school, and coaching two sports were daunting.
“I got the promotion to assistant principal and I decided to effectively do this job that I needed to step away from softball and concentrate on my assistant principal job for the high school,” Johnson said.
Johnson, whose daughter Madison plays for the Panther softball program, said it was tough to leave the program, but felt good about the school hiring Bell.
“It was a tough decision,” Johnson said. “But I can feel good in that we got coach Bell. She is a proven winner who works hard. It is a great hire for the Geneva school system.”
Three of Johnson’s first four Geneva softball teams eclipsed the 30-win mark with the 2016 team winning 28. The 2018 team finished as Class 3A state runner-up and the 2019 club finished fourth at state. This past year, the Panthers finished 20-14 and reached the reginal finals.
Crews feels Geneva has the right coach in Bell to help continue the tradition of winning Panther softball.
“We wanted to find a softball coach that could come in and continue the success we have had,” Crews said. “You check her references and you see her success in her playing days at Alabama and Team USA then the success at Slocomb. She is one of the best in the area, a classy person, high character who does things the right way.”
Bell said the opportunity to coach at Geneva was one that came to her.
“Sometimes God opens doors,” Bell said. “I wasn’t out job searching by any means. The opportunity arose and it was a good decision for my family.”
On the field, Bell said she is competitive coach who expects the most of the players.
“I hate to lose more than I win,” Bell said. “I am very competitive. I believe in hard work, hustle, determination, a leave-it-all-out-on-the-field mentality. That is kind of my philosophy in life too – you give your best every single day and then the next day the best is yet to come.”
Bell was an assistant coach at Samford University from 2011-15 and was a graduate assistant at Alabama after her playing days with the Tide that included second-team All-SEC honors in 2006 and 2008 and ESPN All-America honors in 2009. She also played professional softball with the Rockford Thunder (5th round pick in 2010) and the Chicago Bandits in 2010 and 2011.
A native of Fayetteville, Ga., Bell played at Alabama from 2006-09 where she made 244 career starts at catcher and was a two-time SEC Defensive Team member in addition to being two-time All-SEC. She was part of three Women’s College World Series teams (2006, 2008 and 2009).
She also excelled in the classroom as she was named to the SEC Honor Roll and to the Alabama Dean’s Lists all four years as well to the second team of ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District Team.
Bell also played for the U.S. National Team for four seasons, earning gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and at the 2011 Pan American Games. She was named the top catcher at the 2011 Canadian Open.