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Cathi Aradi

"Softball House" Enhances Central Arkansas Program.

We all know coaches whose dedication is at such a high level that they're said to "live at the field." If construction of a new softball field at the University of Central Arkansas is completed on schedule, that's what University of Central Arkansas head coach Natalie Shock will be doing.

Shock, whose softball team is one of four UCA athletic teams (baseball and men's and women's soccer are the others) to have its own house with locker rooms and other related facilities, has gone one step beyond her baseball and soccer colleagues. The fourth-year head coach, who started the UCA softball program in 1996, and her husband Kevin live in the university-owned "Softball House," located near a tree-lined clearing where the new field, expected to be ready in time for the 2000 season, will be built.

It all began several years ago when the university, located in Conway, about a half-hour drive north of Little Rock on Interstate 40, found itself in a good news-bad news situation. Increasing enrollment (good) was causing a campus-wide space shortage (bad). To combat this trend, the university began purchasing private homes adjacent to campus as they became available, to be used by various campus departments and organizations, including the aforementioned athletic teams. The house purchased for the softball program is a massive old tree-shrouded 3,000 square foot structure, previously owned by a faculty member, that became available late last spring. At that time, Shock envisioned the house primarily as a locker room, team meeting place and residence for her graduate assistant, but it wasn't long until it turned into something more.

"At first, I thought it'd be a neat place for my G. A. to live", says Shock, who earned NAIA All-American honors as a basketball point guard at UCA in 1985 and who still holds the school career assist record. "But I talked with our athletic director about it and he said it might be better if Kevin and I lived there ourselves so we could oversee everything." Since Shock was then commuting daily from her home in Searcy, Arkansas, about 50 miles away, the decision to move was an easy one and she and Kevin, a former UCA baseball player who volunteers as a hitting coach for the softball team, took up residence in "Softball House" early last summer. Shock has plans for the house beyond its current role as a residence.

"We've got an area for dressing rooms and we'll be able to get 18 lockers in there," she says. "There's a little formal dining room we're going to use for a players lounge. The kids who live off-campus can use the house to study, do laundry, cook, or just hang out between classes. I'm big on team functions and we have a deck and a big back yard that will be great for those."

Eventually, she hopes to set up the softball office there. "When baseball first moved into its house, their coach wanted to get computer hookups so he could have his office there. The university told him it would cost several thousand dollars to do it, so he decided not to," she remembers. "But now they're talking about putting computer hookups in all the houses," making very real the possibility that Shock will eventually be able to live, work and coach within a football field-length of her home when the new field is completed.

The Sugar Bears, affiliated with NCAA Division II and the Gulf South Conference, currently play home games at the university's intramural complex on the other side of the campus, a facility Shock calls "a beautiful complex, one of the better ones in the state." But she can't wait for the new field to be built.

"As good as it (house) is now, it'll be better once we get the new field. It'll be about 100 yards from the house, back in a corner lined with trees. There's a big open spot where the field is going to be, so they won't have to do much bulldozing and I hope they leave the trees there. It'll be a beautiful place to play."