By: Athletic Communications Assistant Erin Madden
BEREA, Ohio – Sitting in the stands of a collegiate women's basketball game, Tom Spencer thought he might want to be a coach someday. The stands of Ursprung Gymnasium, that is.
His friendship with the former University of Mount Union head coach is what brought him to Berea that day – to watch the Purple Raiders take on Baldwin Wallace. An avid sports fan, Spencer pictured himself on the sidelines and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
"I watched the game and thought to myself, 'Wow, I really would enjoy doing that,'" Spencer said.
He proceeded to call up veteran women's basketball coach Cheri Harrer and eventually began his coaching career as her volunteer, which led to various other responsibilities. Some of Spencer's titles over the years have included assistant women's basketball coach, head women's golf coach and, now, 15-year head softball coach. Sometimes all three at once.
Spencer was first introduced to the sport of softball at BW while he was helping Harrer. Led by former athletic director and current BW Hall of Famer Marcia French, the softball team was in need of an assistant coach. So, relying on his baseball background, Spencer stepped up to the plate and his career started to take off from there as he eventually became the head coach of the Yellow Jackets.
During his first stint at the helm, springs proved to be busy for Spencer. Many times, the women's basketball team extended their season into the NCAA Tournament so he would have two practices a day: basketball from 3:30-5:30 and softball from 5:30-7:30.
And what happened, say, if the women's basketball team advanced to the Sweet 16 round, which usually conflicts with the softball team leaving for its spring break trip? Well, Spencer would send his assistants down with softball, fly down to softball on Sunday after winning basketball regionals, coach the week down there and then have his softball assistants bring the team home while he flew to the basketball Sweet 16 site.
"It was crazy basically from the first week of February until the end of the school year," Spencer explained. "It was one sport or the other, all the way through, with really no breaks at all."
BW proved to be a great, small-school atmosphere but, when a job at NCAA Division I Butler (Ind.) University came up, Spencer couldn't turn that opportunity down.
"It was a big decision for our family because we had to pack up and move," Spencer said. "But I figured, hey, let's give it a shot."
After a few seasons with the Bulldogs, however, his family was ready to return home. A job at then-NAIA Notre Dame College brought Spencer back to Cleveland where, eventually, he landed back in Berea for the 2007-08 season.
Flash forward to the 2019 campaign where Spencer has led the Yellow Jackets to a school-record 32 wins and the first OAC Tournament appearance since 2011 while also notching his 300th career victory along the way.
Spending 15 years at the helm, Spencer has seen his fair share of athletes round the bases and cross the stage at graduation, by which time he hopes to instill a hard work ethic along with the ability to enjoy life. In return, his athletes have taught Spencer those exact same lessons.
"They teach me a lot of things all the time," Spencer said. "I guess the same things, to be appreciative of what I have. I'm fortunate enough to have this job and the opportunity to coach them."
With a new, fully-turfed softball field, recruiting is on the rise and the future looks bright for Spencer and the Yellow Jackets.
"I think we have the capability in the next 3-4 years to get to the College World Series," Spencer explained. "I think that's definitely a possibility."