Varsity

Jim Nemish: Living Legend

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By Rick Woodward

Back in September, Durham College women’s softball coach Jim Nemish won his 500th career game. Such a number sounds prolific, as it should, but even more impressive is the number of games he’s lost. Nemish’s career winning percentage of .753 is one of the highest in Canadian collegiate softball history.

Durham College women’s softball coach Jim Nemish won his 500th career game in September 2018. (OCAA)

To say Nemish has achieved legendary status in the OCAA’s coaching ranks would be an understatement. Running the team since the late ‘80s, Nemish has led his team to a medal finish at provincials in 27 of his 30 seasons, including 17 golds. That kind of continued success is almost unheard of in most sports, but the coach chalks it up to solid recruitment and philosophy.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get quality players here and they’ve bought into the program,” Nemish says. “When you succeed and win, and have a winning program, then it attracts good players because everybody wants to play on a successful program.”

Ken Babcock, Director of Athletics & Recreation for Durham College, has known Nemish for most of his tenure with the program says the coach expects a lot out of his players, but he expects a lot out of himself as well.

“Jim knows how to build and run a collegiate women’s softball program that mirrors any top NCAA WSB program in the USA. And his ability to recruit top student-athletes who are strong players and excellent students has been the recipe for success,” Babcock says via email.

Former player Allison Giroux, a member of the team that went undefeated over a 56-game stretch in the early 2000s, was one of many athletes drawn to Durham based on its track record. She isn’t the only one who felt that way, as countless others have gone out of their way to be part of Nemish’s legendary program.

“People look at that program and say ‘you know what, you’re a fastball player, you need to go to Durham’. It’s an amazing program and it’s highly recommended,” Giroux says. “Jim also does an amazing job throughout the offseason recruiting. He takes such great pride in finding his talent. He’s finding these gems and puts together, clearly, year after year, an amazing program.”

Being around for as long as he has, Nemish has seen the league expand in terms of the number of games played, along with several other changes, including the evolution of the athletes themselves.

“A lot of girls that used to go to the States are staying in Canada now because their season’s longer, there’s more games,” he says, citing more double-headers in the last five years. “Better quality players because over the years, things have changed, kids are training harder, they’re keeping in better shape, so they’re becoming better athletes,”

The athletes aren’t the only ones who have changed, however. When you’ve had as much success as the Durham Lords have had over the last three decades, other teams begin to take notice, formulating specific game plans to take down the mighty Lords. As such, coach Nemish has had to adapt to the ever-evolving game of softball.

Assistant coach Rosie Theriault says, “He’s grown with the game … he has a vision of what he wants to be and he just goes and gets it done.”

Nemish has become synonymous with Durham softball and it’s a relationship he wouldn’t change a thing about.

“I like it here, I’m treated very well. It’s a great staff to work with, the athletic department looks after us very well,” Nemish says.  “And it’s fun… I enjoy every year meeting new players, returning players coming back, so it’s been fun.”

After 30 with the college, Nemish has accumulated a few favourite memories during his time as a coach.

“There’s a lot of memorable moments, I think our first medal at nationals in 2010, we won a silver medal out there,” Nemish says. “I think the biggest thing was over a four-year period where we went undefeated for 56 games, and I think that was a huge accomplishment and that was pretty memorable, being able to do that over four years.”

One would think that Nemish has accomplished all that can possibly be accomplished in the OCAA, but he says he has no concrete plans to walk away just yet.

“It’s a year by year thing and as long as it continues to be fun, and as long as they want me, I’ll keep coming back,” he says.

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