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Former Fayetteville softball coach Jason Shirey finding success on the diamond at Farmington

The Cardinals finished 6-1 in the 4A-1 Conference this season as the postseason begins.

Story and photo by Steve Andrews 

After a four-year hiatus from the softball diamond, first-year Farmington head coach Jason Shirey is back doing what he does best – teaching the finer fundamentals of the game. 

The former University of Arkansas assistant and longtime Fayetteville High School head coach admits he missed being around the field but knew he wanted to wait for the ideal opportunity to come along. 

He was finally granted that opportunity last summer, when his close friend and Farmington softball pioneer Randy Osnes decided to step down after leading the Cardinals’ program for the first 27 years of its existence. Shirey served two years as Osnes’s volunteer assistant in 2001-02, before landing the job at Fayetteville in 2003.

“Randy gave me a chance to stay in the game at the high school level after I left Arkansas, to see how things were done, and we have been close all the way through,” Shirey said. “What those two years at Farmington taught me was the actual teaching aspect of the game. It’s one thing at the college level, dealing with college athletes. But having to be able to explain concepts was a little more difficult for some of the younger players. But I also learned a lot about practice organization, keeping people busy and moving, and a lot of those things, as well.”

The 52-year-old Shirey has already found success in year one with the Lady Cardinals, leading his girls to the top-seed in this weekend’s 4A-1 Conference Tournament at Harrison. Farmington is 15-5 overall and 6-1 in the conference.

“It’s been a really good year,” he said. “Great group of kids, great assistant coaches, and a great environment at the high school. It’s been a good transition.”

Shirey had previously led the Fayetteville softball team to eight conference championships in his 14-year stint with the Bulldogs, including back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007, while also being named state Coach of the Year.


“Winning a state championship is hard to describe, but its where you are extremely excited for the kids, because of all the effort and time they had put into it,” he said. “You really want to see them rewarded for that. To get to that point, it’s never easy. You have really had to put in the work to earn it.”

After a 6-18 record in 2017, Shirey decided to step away from softball but remained at the school as a social studies teacher. He is grateful for the success he had at Fayetteville but admits that talent dictates success.

“As far as talent at this level, it’s just kind of cyclical, where the overall talent level -- especially having a dominant pitcher -- changes from year to year,” he said. “This game is still dictated in the pitching circle. And the teams like Rogers, Bentonville and West just continue to have one or two kids that they can rely on. And if you have that dominant pitcher, that gives you a chance each game.

“There are certain places where there has definitely been a commitment throughout the entire community, starting at the youth level. You can’t deny that you can go to Bentonville or Rogers, basically any night of the week, and every field is covered with kids. You can’t tell me that doesn’t have an impact.”

He is excited to see the Farmington community dedicating resources and putting a focus on youth sports, which he hopes will continue to make his program stronger.

“We have tremendous community support,” he said. “The city youth leagues are going strong, and they are starting them at young ages. And they can come and watch our girls to see what it’s like to be a part of something good, with a program that Randy has built over the last 27 years. Hopefully that continues.”

The Lady Cardinals have two players this year who have earned college scholarships, and he hopes to see that number grow in the future. First nbaseman Grace Boatwright will play for Oklahoma Baptist and shortstop Remington Adams is headed to Ouachita Baptist.

“It’s special to see some of your players get an opportunity to play at the next level, and it’s just another reminder that hard work gets rewarded,” Shirey added. “And it’s also a great example for the young kids to continue to work hard.”

He also feels that the success that the UA program is now having will have a benefit to the sport at all levels throughout the region. The Lady Razorbacks are currently ranked No. 6 nationally.

“It’s great to see that program excel, and Coach (Courtney) Defel has done a tremendous job,” he said. “But I think it also has some spill-over effect for us, because you have all these young girls in the community excited about watching softball at a high level. Then they are going to camps and trying to emulate that, so who knows? If I can get kids in my community excited about softball and it gets them playing, then I think it can only help our program.”

After playing second-base for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team in the early 1990’s, Shirey began his coaching career as an assistant with the newly established Ragin Cajun’s women’s softball team. In 1997, he moved to Fayetteville as the first hitting coach for the second-year Razorbacks softball program.

“Although I played baseball, I learned early on that there really wasn’t a lot of difference between coaching baseball and softball -- other than learning the slap-hitting game,” he said. “But a lot of the stuff today, there really isn’t a lot of difference in the way the two sports are coached and taught. Baseball is still my first love, but at this point I don’t have any desire to coach baseball again.”

His first year at Arkansas he also met his future wife, Amber Nicholas, who was then an assistant coach with the Razorbacks women’s basketball team. Now Amber Shirey, she was a record-setting point-guard for the Razorbacks from 1989-92, before serving 15 years as an assistant and remains on the Arkansas staff as the program’s Director of Basketball Operations.

The couple has three children. Their oldest, Ross, is a sophomore pitcher for the Harding University baseball team, while their oldest daughter, Reese, is a sophomore at Farmington. After helping the Lady Cardinals’ basketball team reach the state championship game in March, Reese now plays left field for her dad on the softball team.

“It’s been great being able to coach her this year,” said Shirey, who also has a younger daughter, Rheid, in middle school. “I get to see another side of Reese out here, and we made an agreement that we won’t talk sports anywhere other than the field.”

Shirey hopes this is the final stop of his coaching career, but realizes it’s all about the success, which he hopes continues in the state tournament.

“In the postseason, everyday can be your last day,” he said. “So, there’s a sense of urgency that we have got to play with. For the next three weeks, you don’t really get any do-overs, it’s all for takes. All we can do is come out and play hard every night and see where we’re at.”