Jodie E. Kennedy hitting facility

Former West Lauderdale softball coach Jessie Kennedy stands in front of the Jodie E. Kennedy softball hitting facility. West Lauderdale softball players, from left, Katelyn Wilson, Nazli Staten and Maggie Bush hold a picture of Jodie Kennedy, Jessie Kennedy’s late husband and former Lady Knights’ assistant coach.

Jodie Kennedy relentlessly pursued a flawless blueprint for the Lady Knights’ softball hitting facility.

His search for perfection took him to Newton County, Wayne County and Raleigh high schools in pursuit of ideas, and he spent every breathing minute pouring over the details.

Former West Lauderdale softball coach Jessie Kennedy recalled her late husband’s passion for his brainchild with a smile. 

“He definitely took this project and made it his own,” Jessie Kennedy said. “He did all the legwork. He made all the phone calls and rallied the community and parents for support. Jodie was ahead of it.”

West Lauderdale’s hitting facility opened last year, but Jodie Kennedy never saw its construction completed — he died of a heart attack in December 2017. He was 38.

Jodie E. Kennedy hitting facility 2

Pictured is the weight room inside of the Jodie E. Kennedy softball hitting facility at West Lauderdale High School

Although the former West Lauderdale softball assistant coach and firefighter isn’t physically present, his legacy will always remain a part of the program.

Just beyond the edge of right field at West Lauderdale’s softball complex sits the Jodie E. Kennedy hitting facility. The expansive black-and-red structure features multiple hitting cages, customizable sections and a two-story, air-conditioned building that boasts state-of-the-art weight equipment.

Nothing in the facility was designed by accident.

“He finally, after several examples, got to the one he liked the best and was the most efficient,” Jessie Kennedy said. “He made it to where you could push everything out of the way, so if you needed to take infield in here. He customized the entire thing.” 

The Kennedys were a “package deal” when Jessie Kennedy became the Lady Knights’ head coach ahead of the 2016 season. His baseball background spanned the college and professional ranks, while hers included a softball career at William Carey University. They were, essentially, the First Family of West Lauderdale softball. Their two boys, Easton and Kruze, were fixtures at West Lauderdale softball games.

Jodie E. Kennedy hitting facility 3

Pictured is the inside of the Jodie E. Kennedy softball hitting facility at West Lauderdale High School

While Jodie Kennedy loved the technical aspect of the sport, it paled in comparison to the devotion he had for his players. And it was that devotion that drove him to pursue a stand-alone hitting facility for them and those who would follow.

“When Jodie and I took it over, it was a very rainy fall, and we were having issues with practice because the field would flood,” Jessie Kennedy said. “Baseball was great with sharing time over there at their facility, but otherwise, we’d be in the back gym... Jodie and I just knew the girls needed something of their own that they could work in all types of weather and year-round.”

Jodie Kennedy died during his second year as an assistant. He was memorialized throughout the community by his players, colleagues and those he assisted through his work as an emergency service worker. Jessie Kennedy said she initially intended to step down as head coach, but felt doing so would be a disservice to her late husband and their players.

Jodie Kennedy

In this May 13, 2017 photo, Jodie Kennedy pitches for the Meridian Fire Department team during the Special Olympics benefit softball tournament.

“I’m glad, because I was able to face it and be with my girls and be with my seniors,” Jessie Kennedy said. “And just be in it for another year to get better and grieve together, and to show my girls that you can still do the hard things and work hard and face the difficult challenges in life, like losing your husband. And even though it hurt to be out here, and it was hard, it’s doable. I guess I really wanted to show the girls that it’s OK — you don’t have to run from everything.”

Jessie Kennedy resigned from her position in May. The decision allows her more time to spend with her children, who have, unsurprisingly, gravitated toward baseball. Austin Buchanan was hired as her replacement, a move Jessie Kennedy said Jodie Kennedy would be proud of. 

“When they moved here, Jodie was one of those guys who never didn’t get along with anybody,” Buchanan said. “He was just a great guy in general, and a guy who you would want to follow. Any time you heard the name Jodie Kennedy, everybody would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a really good guy.’ To take over a program that he was involved with is just special. I know that he wanted what’s best for the girls, and still does. I’m honored to take his place.”

Jessie Kennedy rested on a bench inside the facility that bears her late husband’s name Friday afternoon. Not far from her, her two sons clutched bats and took their turns unloading on incoming softballs. Even in his absence, Jodie Kennedy’s presence is still felt. 

Just before Jessie Kennedy resigned as head coach, she posted photos of the finished Jodie E. Kennedy hitting facility on Facebook, sharing the structure that will forever bear her late husband’s name.

Her post read, “Your legacy will live on in every swing built, every bit of confidence boosted, every pitch thrown, and every success gifted through the blessing of the facility for years to come.”

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