Staff Photo: Christine Troyke Mill Creek's Jennifer Maloney
Mill Creek associate head softball coach Jennifer Maloney came to the school in 2007 and was part of the Hawks' state championship run a year later. Maloney, a biology teacher, has continued to help the program flourish, including a runner-up finish this year.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ... ", Maloney talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including growing up in a small town, going back to college and planning to take a team of Georgians to play in Italy next summer.
CT: Where did you grow up?
JM: Lafayette, Georgia.
CT: What sports did you play? Obviously softball.
JM: (laughing) I played softball. I played golf. I was a cheerleader for a brief moment. And then I played basketball, too. In a small town, you can do whatever you want -- whether you're good or not, they're going to let you.
CT: You kind of have to, like with the smaller classification schools in Gwinnett. Almost all those kids play three sports.
JM: We just all did -- because that was what there was to do. It was nice, though.
CT: What's the town like?
JM: It's a small town. Very small town.
CT: Was it one of those places where everything gets shut down on Friday night for the football game?
JM: Yeah -- and that was a change for me working here in Gwinnett County. Lafayette has been around forever. We got a brand new high school when I was there, but the old one, I mean, it was old. When they finally moved everybody over, it was so weird to leave all that tradition behind. There's only two high schools in the county where I grew up. So it was almost a culture shock coming here. My entire high school was the size of the graduating class at one high school in Gwinnett.
We're at 3,600 (at Mill Creek). I graduated with 176 people. I'm like, "How do y'all know everybody?" Because we knew everybody. You were friends with everybody that went to school there. You knew every teacher in the building. They knew who you were. It was a big change.
CT: How good were you at each sport you played?
JM: (laughing) Softball was definitely my focus. Then I made it to the state playoffs in golf my senior year. Basketball I did just because my friends played basketball. It was something to do. I liked it, but it kept me in shape.
CT: Where did you go to college?
JM: I started at Georgia Southern and then my husband and I moved here and had a family. I finished my bachelor's in Athens at the University of Georgia in 2007. And then I just finished a master's from Georgia Southern this summer, in kinesiology.
CT: You've been busy.
JM: I don't know any other way.
CT: How difficult is it to have a job and be in school?
JM: You just find the time for the things you want to do. That's my personality. Not only do I coach here, but I help with the school science fair and I like to be involved in everything. You find the time. My kids and my husband have learned that this is the way mom is.
CT: How old are your kids now?
JM: I have a 9-year-old daughter, Rory, and then my son, Aiden, is 3.
CT: Did you know your husband in high school or meet him in college?
JM: We met in Statesboro. He grew up in Gwinnett County. So when we moved here, he was moving home and I was moving ... it was really crazy my first two weeks here. Going from Lafayette to Statesboro to here, it's a big transition. He was like, "I don't understand what your problem is." I said, "Honey, one wrong turn and I end up in Atlanta."
CT: What do you teach?
JM: I teach biology. I'm supposed to start AP bio this fall. That's a little scary.
CT: I only took one AP class in high school and I don't know if it just wasn't that big a deal or I didn't understand. Are they more like college courses now?
JM: The way this one is set up is. It's very intensive. There's a lot of work and a lot of reading. And a lot of motivation that the students need to succeed.
But it'll be a nice change of pace after teaching the freshmen all day long.
CT: Kelly (Murdock) was the head coach when you got here and now it's Roger (Parham). What's it like working with two successful coaches like them?
JM: For me, they're different, but they accomplish the same thing. So I feel blessed to have been able to work with both of them. I've learned so much from each of them. To see how you can have two very different coaches and still achieve that same goal, is amazing. That no matter what route, if you're passionate about your job, you'll still get there.
I find myself picking up things and I think I've become a blend of different coaching styles the longer I've done it.
CT: If you got here in 2007, then the second year you were here, you guys won the state title?
JM: Yes. That was amazing. It was such a good group of girls that you enjoyed being around them. They loved the sport and they were willing to work. They'd been there two years past and finished third so to see them come so far and finally win, it was an amazing moment for them.
CT: Is Mill Creek a beneficiary of being a big school and having a lot of athletes to choose from? Or does success breed success in terms of being able to maintain a level of excellence? Because year in and year out, people can count on Mill Creek being in the race for a title.
JM: We have good kids, that are willing to work. That's the key to me. You can have talented athletes and still do well. We not only have talented athletes, but we have these kids that are so hardworking and so motivated. They have that drive to win and be successful that sometimes it makes it easy to coach them.
CT: You're looking to take a team to Italy next summer?
JM: I am. Billy Dooley (former head coach at Collins Hill) contacted me about a month ago and asked if I would be willing to take a team to Italy. Billy and I have a very funny relationship. He's always messing with me. So when he texted me, I laughed at him and said, "Really, get serious, Dooley." He texted me back and he was totally serious about it.
A couple days later we got the ball rolling. It's through America's Team and you get a group of girls from the state of Georgia together and so spend eight days in Italy in July next summer. They'll play softball every other day and get to tour Italy. It should be an amazing experience for them.
CT: What's the preparation like for it?
JM: A lot of it is just finding the right kids that want to go and getting them ready for that trip. The rest of it is so well-organized that on my end it's more putting the team together so we have the right kids.
CT: Is it an invitation process?
JM: We sent out an email to every coach in the state of Georgia and asked for recommendations. They recommend girls they feel are great kids that would benefit from the trip. From there, I contact them and we get the ball rolling to see if they even want to go.
CT: Who doesn't want to go to Italy?
JM: Well, some girls are really into travel ball. That's a big time of year for their travel ball teams. They have to make a decision as to whether they're going to miss a qualifier that might put them in nationals or they're going to go to Italy for the week. It's a tough decision -- although I know where I would go.
I can't imagine not going. I'm very excited about the opportunity to be able to do that.
CT: I guess maybe if it was your last season of travel ball, but how often do you get the opportunity to go to Italy. It's not just the sightseeing. It seems like a unique opportunity to play softball against international opponents.
JM: It's such an amazing concept. We had a meeting this past Saturday and had parents from different parts of the state come down, to talk to them and see what their thoughts are, to have that experience when you get older.
I traveled abroad when I was a freshman in high school. I ended up in Russia for a month. It was a very interesting trip. At 14? Yeah. But that experience has stuck with me. It's one of those vivid memories you have from your high school experience. So to be able to give that to this group, I think will be amazing.
CT: So how did you end up in Russia for a month?
JM: (laughing) It was an environmental project done through the state of Georgia. They took 50 kids from across the state. We went over and visited different parts and did environmental tests on air and water. Then those kids we stayed with came back six months later and we compared environmental tests from the two places.
CT: I haven't heard of anything like that before.JM: I don't think they still do it. I think it was just one or two years. But it was not something that stuck. I think the prep work for it was extensive.
But it was an experience you just don't forget.
CT: Do you remember what you determined in terms of Russia's environment goes?
JM: I think it was about equal to ours.
CT: What year was that?
CT: It's interesting to think about even just the political changes that have happened in that region since then.
JM: It was very scary. We went right after communism had fallen. They would take us to Red Square or through an airport and they were constantly reminding us, "You have to do X, Y and Z or they will arrest you. You cannot cross these boundaries."
I remember standing in Red Square and it had snowed. You have 14-year-old boy, who want to throw snowballs and be 14-year-old boys. Or teachers were just appalled. They were like, "You have to stop. Be reverent. You're in front of Lenin's tomb."
CT: What was the food like?
JM: I'm hoping Italy's is better.
CT: I think you can count on it.
JM: There was some stuff that was really good and then their cuisine is just very, very different.
CT: I was in Italy for a couple weeks and I don't remember a bad meal.
JM: That's what I'm hoping. Food is very important to me. Anybody in this program that knows me knows food is important.
CT: Is it a fairly structured trip?
JM: They sent me the itinerary and we're going to be going. Dooley and his wife took the group last year and they said you don't have down time, really. You see and do more in that eight-day period than some people can do in two or three weeks. We'll travel to three different cities, we'll play doubleheaders every other day.
CT: Is it against all Italian teams?
JM: Yes. From what I've been told, the competition is not going to be tough. They told the girls last weekend that if you're going to play competitive softball, you're not going for the right reasons. We're going to play and have a good time and enjoy the game.
I told one of the mom's it will be nice for these girls that are constantly playing ball. They play all through the fall, the spring, the summer. For some of them to take that week and go back to just enjoying the game that we all love and it not be such a pressure situation, I think that will be exciting.
CT: When you were in high school and looking toward college, was teaching what you thought you wanted to do?
JM: I have known I was going to be a teacher since I was a little girl -- as cliche as that sounds. My grandfather and my grandmother were both teachers. My grandfather is who I get my coaching drive from. And my mom is a teacher, too. Sometimes I think there's genetics involved.
But I never even thought about teaching science until I moved here and was looking to get into Georgia. It was one of those lightbulb moments where you think, "Man, I could really see myself doing that." From there, it's just been something I've thoroughly enjoyed doing.
CT: What was your first job?
JM: I had a job all through high school. I worked at a little pizza place down the road from my house.
CT: What was your first car?
JM: I had a Dodge Shadow. It was so old. I think my aunt had actually given it to me. I drove that for the last two years of high school and then I bought a new one before I went to college because I didn't think it would make it.
It was awful, too. It was like champagne with burgundy interior. It was not the cool car.I grew up where they had jacked-up trucks with gun racks in the back. Nobody had a really nice car.