By Rich Palzewic
PULASKI – To the casual fan, most associate Janel Batten as the Pulaski High School Athletic Director.
Many might not realize Batten has an accomplished background as a high school softball coach.
With more than 400 head coaching wins to her credit, Batten, along with Stephanie Hauser (WIAA contributor), Jeff Hodgson (Belmont) and Patty Jansen (Watertown) was inducted into the Wisconsin Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Feb. 5 in Wisconsin Dells.
The foursome was the 14th class honored for their softball efforts in the state.
“It’s an honor,” Batten, who graduated from Appleton East, said about being inducted. “It’s more of an honor because of the people honored before me. There are some great people in the sport. It’s also recognition for the coaches and players I worked with.”
After leaving East, Batten played college volleyball, basketball and softball at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.
“You’d never be able to (play three college sports) now,” Batten said. “(Coaches) were more reasonable with your time. There was some overlap, but it was fun.”
After leaving Dubuque, Batted coached softball at Oshkosh West for three years before returning to Appleton East in 1998.
The Patriots boasted winning seasons in all 16 seasons with Batten as the head coach (1999-2014).
Under her direction, East made eight appearances in the state tournament, which included a string of six consecutive appearances from 2008-13.
In 2003, the Patriots were the state runners-up, and in 2000, the state champions.
“It went by fast,” Batten said. “I enjoyed every minute of it. I love teaching math, but my real passion was to be in the third-base coaching box. I also coached volleyball and basketball, but softball was my true passion.”
Batten began her coaching career by teaching her sister’s tee-ball team.
“I began doing that in the fifth grade and umpired during the summer,” she said.
Batten said she was building a good program at Oshkosh West before Appleton East came calling.
“We went to state (at West) my second and third year,” she said. “Appleton East was my true calling, though.”
Batten told a story about where the Patriots used to play their softball games.
“When I played at East, we played at a little park called Telulah Park,” she laughed. “It was a Little League and men’s league park, so we’d get kicked off at a certain time. There were no dugouts, and it wasn’t fair.”
Batten took matters into her own hands when she became the head coach at East.
“One of my main projects there was to help build a softball diamond Field of Dreams as well,” she said. “We also built a new baseball field, did some stuff to the football field and redid the tennis courts. It was fun to be a part of. We were successful on the field, and it had something to do with building the new facility.”
Under the guidance of Batten, Pulaski did a similar project for their athletes and now has some of the finest facilities in the area.
Batten wouldn’t take much credit for her East squad’s success.
“It wasn’t me,” she said. “We had great kids, coaches and parents who bought in. We had great kids along the way. Some of the players are lawyers, doctors and moms. I’m not ridiculous in saying, ‘I was a great coach.’ I surrounded myself with great people, and that’s what you get.”
Batten said the state championship season was an emotional one.
“Our centerfielder’s mom passed away that year,” she said. “It was an emotional year on everybody. We lost our first game of the season, lost another game as part of a doubleheader – both games by a run – and then won our three state games in one day by a score of 1-0. I remember all those kids.”
You’ll still find Batten in the Pulaski softball dugout here and there, something that keeps her in the game.
“I’ve helped when needed in the past at Pulaski, but I’m trying to wean myself out of that,” she said. “I still help kids on the side.”