Staff Photo: John Bohn Christie Thompson, a Gwinnett North graduate and current North softball coach, runs a softball camp held at North Gwinnett High School. The camp is hosted by former Gwinnett softball players now playing in college.
Christie Thompson knows as well as anyone, and better than most, how important it is to pick a college for more than a coach or a name.
Thompson was well advised when she was a standout at North Gwinnett. Her instructors at The Pitcher's Mound, where she had been training since she was 13, did everything they could to help her get a handle on what was most important when picking a college.
"I had plenty of visits everywhere," Thompson said. "I was told exactly what I needed to do. I sent letters to colleges. I went on several different visits to figure out exactly what I wanted. And I got everything I needed out of it. I had a great college experience. I ended up exactly where I needed, and where I wanted, to be.
"I loved it -- even when we didn't do that well. It was such a good time."
It wasn't about a coach. Hers changed after one season. Or about being at a big-time SEC school. Columbus State turned out to be just the right place for Thompson.
"I was told that several times -- it's about what works for you," Thompson said. "It's not about you going to a Georgia. That helped me a lot. I didn't want that and I was not pushed to do that just because it looked good. I appreciated that because a lot of instructors might have been like, 'Go out there and make me look good.'"
Now it's Thompson offering the advice.
She's been a full time instructor at The Pitcher's Mound in Duluth for the last two years.
Going to Columbus State, where she started at second base for four years, and going through a coaching change is something she draws from when talking to her students.
After a hugely successful freshman season when Columbus State finished third at the College World Series and won the Peach Belt Conference titles, Thompson had to decide whether to come back. The coach changed and she considered transferring.
"That was a big decision for me," Thompson said. "Thankfully, what happened was the assistant coach took over. He was actually the one I was recruited by. But the biggest thing, just from that experience, I tell my girls, 'Do not go somewhere just because of softball. Do not go somewhere just because of the coach.' Because every year, you can change that coach.
"I learned a lot from that situation. I got asked if I wanted to transfer. I made the decision to stay just because I really liked the school."
Coaching wasn't what Thompson planned to do, though.
All-conference as a junior and senior, she wanted to get into sports psychology after graduation. Thompson got degrees in exercise science and psychology with that in mind.
But she interned at The Pitcher's Mound and didn't want to leave.
"It wasn't the psychology part -- which was what I was really interested in in school," Thompson said. "But I loved doing the camps and working with the younger girls. So thankfully, I walked into a great situation. A lot of people do their internships and hate it. I was the opposite.
"I weighed my options and I looked for jobs. I applied for jobs locally and I didn't find anything that I really enjoyed. I looked at some sports marketing stuff. But this is where I wanted to be -- the coaching."
Even more surprising to her was an interest in teaching girls still in grade school.
Thompson chuckled when she thought about it.
"I wanted to coach college," she said. "I did not think I was going to be that great with the younger girls. But now I have students that range from 6 to 18 years old. The majority of mine are 9 to 11 -- and I love it. I was very surprised by that.
"The younger kids kind of put everything into perspective. You go back to where you really enjoyed the game. Whereas in college it becomes a job."
The Pitcher's Mound offers instruction in every part of the game. It started as pitching facility nearly 20 years ago, but has expanded to include hitting and fielding. They also recently opened a second location downtown to accommodate players on the south side of the metro area.
"It's not just a pitching instructor trying to teach hitting," Thompson said. "We get the training from the college coaches every year. We bring in a college coach to teach us really what they get down to. We actually train our entire careers. I think that makes us a little different than a lot of the other places.
"And we love to send our girls to a college. There is a fit for everybody. We have a 99-percent rate that we send to college. We've only had one girl that didn't go to college -- and that was because she didn't want to."
Most importantly, the right colleges.