Synteria Williams attempts to steal a base in a game against Saint Francis Catholic on April 1. (Trey Johnson/WRUF)

Hawthorne Softball Lays A New Foundation

The Hawthorne Middle/High School girls varsity softball team is trending in the right direction.

The Hornets are looking to build off of last season’s historic run. The team made an appearance in the state playoff for the first time in school history.

Now, the team is looking to build on that success.

The Community

Hawthorne is a small town. About 16 miles outside of Gainesville sits a community of roughly 1,500 residents.

There are three schools in Hawthorne: two elementary schools and a combined middle-high school. With everyone going to the same school, the town shows up to support.

Hawthorne’s Athletic Director Dustin Adkins, 34, said that he can feel the “tight-knit family atmosphere” throughout the halls and at sporting events.

“The good thing about being a small town is that most of our community members know everyone on our athletic teams on a first name basis,” he said. “Most of our student athletes know the fans who come to the majority of the games.”

Adkins is one of many alumni who have come back to work at the school. He played basketball, football and baseball when he was a student. After graduating, he went on to play football at Dartmouth College. He returned to Hawthorne in 2016.

Athletic Success

Over the past three years, Hawthorne’s athletic department has been able to showcase its talent on the big stage.

In 2020, both boys and girls basketball won the FHSAA Class 1A State Championship.

The football team was the state runner-up later that year.

In 2021, both football and girl’s basketball were the state’s runner-up. The football team fell one point short of capturing its first state title.

Adkins said it wasn’t like this when he attended Hawthorne.

“It’s refreshing,” he said. “We’ve always felt like we were there knocking on the doorsteps of being great programs.”

Adkins said that he is glad that this generation is dispelling the rumors that the school is too small to compete. He said that recent success proves one thing.

“You can come to Hawthorne and make a difference.”

Here Comes Softball

Overlooked would be an understatement. This is not one of the school’s premier teams.

However, they’ve been building something for the last six years.

Insert Coach Hawkins

C.J. Hawkins, like Adkins, grew up in Hawthorne. He played basketball, football and baseball growing up. After graduating in 1998, he went to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University where he majored in education.

Hawkins returned to Hawthorne and started coaching in 2006. He said he wanted to coach because his dad was a coach. Hawkins also wanted to give back to his community.

“I walked those same hallways and played on those same fields and court,” Hawkins said. “Now, to be able to work at the same school and coach on those same fields and court is an amazing feeling.”

For 16 years he’s done just that. He is currently an assistant coach for the football team and the boys basketball team. He was a member of the 2020 state champion boys basketball coaching staff.

However, he took over the softball program in 2016.

He said he wanted the challenge of turning the softball team around. He said he wanted to mirror the success of basketball and football.

“Trust the Process”

Hawkins had a rough start as the head softball coach. According to MaxPreps, he won just eight games in his first four seasons.

However, he never gave up. In year five, the Hornets shocked the area with a record of 12-3. While they did not win their district, they were able to qualify for the playoffs for the first time ever.

Madisyn Gillins winds up for a pitch in the second inning against Union County. (Trey Johnson/WRUF)

Hawkins is changing the culture. He said he wanted to give the girls a chance to do something special. His motto:

“You get out what you put in. If you want more, you give more.”

Looking ahead

The team currently has a record of 6-6.

Hawkins said the biggest thing for this team is getting his players to buy in and trust the process. He is looking to his seven returners to lead the team. Of those returners is freshman Madisyn Gillins.

The 14-year-old is the team’s starting pitcher. She is known to be very emotional on the field.

“I don’t keep myself together sometimes,” she said.

Gillins’ frustration could be seen in the team’s 17-0 loss to Union County on April 11. Hawkins and other coaches were seen trying to lift her spirits. She said she appreciates them for not giving up on her.

Gillins said that even though she’s a freshman, she strives to be a leader.

The pitcher can hit too. Gillins has a batting average of .361 in 46 plate appearances. She has 13 hits and 10 RBIs. Gillins is also tied for the team lead in doubles this season (4).

Hawkins said he’s excited to see where Gillins and the rest of the team can go.

The Hornets will play Wildwood on Monday in the first round of district play.

The Big Picture

The softball team is looking to join football and basketball on the big stage.

“It’s wonderful,” Adkins said. “We strive to be on a championship level throughout our whole athletic program.”

Adkins said he wants the school to be known for its competitive spirit in all sports.

“We’re a school that no matter what the sport is, you can play for a championship if you put in the work and do it the right way.”

Softball might not be there yet, but they seem to be heading in the right direction.

About Trey Johnson

Trey is a third year sports media major at the University of Florida, and a WRUF reporter.

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