GUYTON — Jona Downs has travel plans but she’s not going anywhere for long. She intends to remain a fixture at South Effingham Middle School after she retires in a couple weeks.
“I’d like come back to be a substitute teacher,” said Downs, a 32-year teaching and coaching veteran who arrived at SEMS in 2002. “It’s been fun. It’s never been work.”
A Kentucky native who graduated from LSU, Downs coached SEMS tennis, soccer, track, golf and basketball but made her biggest impression in softball. She compiled a 293-11-1 record while leading the Mustangs to 17 Coastal Middle School Region championships.
SEMS lost only three region softball contests with Downs at the helm. The region includes Burke County Middle School, Ebenezer Middle School, Effingham County Middle School and Richmond Hill School. Screven County Middle School is a former member.
“I hope to come back and help with softball, too,” Downs said.
Downs’ coaching approach is the same in every sport. Aggressiveness is her preferred tactic.
“Coach Downs is super competitive and no little detail gets by her,” said Chuck Smith, a fellow SEMS teacher and a former successful South Effingham High School softball coach. “She has always been a great fundamental and mental teacher of any sport she has coached.”
Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford agrees.
“She’s a gamer,” he said. “As a coach, her girls on the softball field rise up and play at a high level when the game is on the line. You can count on her teams playing fundamentally sound and will put pressure on the opposing teams.”
Downs, SEMS’ athletic director, deflected credit for the her school’s softball success. She cited Effingham County’s strong travel ball programs as a primary reason.
“We have a lot of good players and, unfortunately, we have to cut a lot of them. That’s a tough thing to do,” she said.
“And the parents,” Downs continued. “If I called right now and said I need help getting the field ready for a game, I’d have a bunch show up.”
Despite her coaching success, Downs values the countless hidden victories that her students racked up in PE class just as much. She believes PE is very helpful in developing teamwork, tenacity and work ethic, a notion shared by Ford, a former coach.
“I’m very thankful for her service to our community and students,” Ford said.
Smith will miss Downs on a personal and professional level.
“Our friendship goes back 30 years when we worked together at the YMCA,” he said. “She is a one of a kind and a great friend!”