When asked what position she would like to play on the Kansas Wesleyan softball team Shelly Emig Crane said, “I’m a catcher.”
That year coach Russ Martin went to KWU to be the defensive coordinator for the Coyote’s football team and ended up coaching the softball team for three seasons. Those three — 1989, 1990 and 1991 — were inducted into the Kansas Wesleyan Hall of Fame last month. He started the team with four girls with fastpitch experience.
Crane first put on a catcher’s mask and gear when she was four years old.
“I have one. What position do you play?” Martin asked again.
“I said third base,” Crane said.
“I have one. What position do you play?” he asked again.
“I ducked my head and said I could pitch,” Crane said.
“That I need,” Martin said.
Crane started pitching on the C-Team of the Abilene Eagles softball team.
“Coach Martin was a football coach. So after football practice we would spend a couple hours every night on the tennis courts throwing,” Crane said. “He kept saying ‘throw like me. Mimic me.’”
When Brad Jenkins hired Martin to be his defensive coordinator, he said, “by the way, I need a softball coach.”
“I grew up playing it, played years and years of men’s competitive fastpitch and I said ‘yes, I’d be happy to do that,” Martin said at the time of the teams’ induction.
Ironically, Crane went to Kansas Wesleyan on a basketball scholarship. For two of those three years, she did both sports.
“I knew that I wanted to go to a college close to home because I still wanted to be involved in the farming,” she said.
Her parents Don and Linda Emig had a farm where Crane still manned a tractor and helped milk up to 50 dairy cows twice a day.
At Abilene High School, Crane played basketball for four years, volleyball for four years and track for three years, sitting out her senior year because of an injury. During the summer she played on the Eagle’s softball team.
As a Coyote, Crane was a pitcher and third baseman that helped Kansas Wesleyan to the first two of four consecutive KCAC championships, according to her induction information in 2007. She was named First Team All-KCAC every year she played in the conference, but her breakout year was her sophomore season in 1990. She was named to the NAIA All-District 10 team while hitting .441, stealing 30 bases, and had a 23-4 record pitching, figuring in all but one of the Coyotes wins as they finished 24-11 that season. She was an NAIA All-District 10 selection in 1991 as well.
“Russ gave us the green light. He was like, ‘use your brain. You know what to do.’ Terri (Clark) had never played fastpitch softball until she started playing college ball, so her game was to bunt the ball and get on,” Crane said in a Kansas Wesleyan University article covering the induction. “She was so fast that even if you knew she was going to bunt the ball you still couldn’t get her out.
“She would steal second. That opened up first and once I would get on base, I would lead off far enough that a catcher would throw at me and we would both advance. We were fast enough that if you threw behind me, we were moving. If you threw behind her, we were moving. We were smart and we used each other and we knew what each other was going to do.”
Martin credits his softball success to the players’ willingness to listen and learn.
“The big thing was they bought in to what we were trying to do,” he said. “At the very first meeting we only had four gals to start with in the fall that had played fastpitch softball. Several of them said they knew gals who had played, whether it was slowpitch, but were good athletes playing other sports. We actively recruited those girls to come out.”
Heartbreak struck her senior season when Coach Martin departed and, in a preseason game, she broke her leg which ended her season.
With a year of eligibility left, Crane followed Martin to Bethany College where he was the football coach and helped out with the softball team.
However, first Crane had to find a curriculum at Bethany that Kansas Wesleyan didn’t offer to avoid violating recruiting regulations in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
She went into teaching.
She studied at Bethany during the day and continued her studies at Kansas Wesleyan so she could play one more year of college softball.
That year she got her wish to be the catcher and was named a conference All-American.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.