Pam Pickett never heard of Buena Regional High School while growing up in Monmouth County.
She applied for a teaching position at the school in 1980 because she needed a job. Pickett figured she’d stay a year.(tncms-asset)b030ab60-255f-11e7-9420-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Nowadays, there’s probably no one more synonymous with Buena Regional than her.
Pickett is in her 30th season as the Chiefs’ softball coach with a career record of 603-176-1.
“It became a perfect job for me,” she said.
No South Jersey coach has more career victories than Pickett. Win No. 600 came in a 5-1 victory over New Egypt on April 8.
“I’ve had the success because of the kids who are willing to put in the time,” she said.
Pickett grew up in Neptune Township and graduated from Neptune High School in 1976. Her father, Claude, who died when she was in high school, taught her how to play softball. She comes from a family of six children.
“Competition was part of our lives,” she said. “My dad had played some softball in the Navy. He had three daughters, and he trained us to be pitchers.”
Pickett went on to pitch and catch at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). She graduated in 1980 and saw an opening for a special education teacher at Buena Regional.
“I was looking for a job,” she said. “I didn’t want to turn down anything. I had never heard of Millville or Vineland, forget Buena.”
Pickett got the teaching job. Barbara Meyrick, then Buena’s softball coach, offered her a job as an assistant.
“She said, ‘You played in college, and we really could use an assistant coach,’” Pickett said. “I had no intention of doing any of this.”
Five S.J. titles
Seven years later, Pickett took over as head coach. She built the Chiefs into one of the South Jersey’s elite programs. Buena has won five S.J. titles, including three straight from 2013-15. Buena named its softball field in her honor in 2014.
When Pickett first started, she grabbed students out of the hallway to play for her. Today, the players come with their own bats, helmets and private coaches.
“The program has to be bigger than all of us,” Pickett said. “We have to remember we’re linked for life. It’s really not about all those wins. It’s about, can we be good people, be dedicated to something and make sacrifices (to achieve) something?”
Pickett is an energetic coach. She leans forward with her hands on her knees before a key pitch when coaching third base.
“Bang the ball,” she shouted at one hitter during Wednesday’s lopsided win over Holy Spirit.
“That’s why you get three,” she said to another who took a pitch for a strike.
Even thought Buena was winning big Wednesday, Pickett paid attention to every detail.
“We never jog,” she told one base runner. “Once we move, we run hard, and we see the ball.”
One player didn’t join the team huddle between innings.
“You get up for our huddle,” Pickett told her. “You don’t sit.”(tncms-asset)c69d538e-255b-11e7-beb8-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
Senior outfielder Aysiah Cintron said Pickett knows exactly how she wants the team to play.
“Everyone knows what to expect,” Cintron said. “When the freshmen come, we know how to get them into the groove to play our style of softball. You have to be coachable, be a team and take negative things and turn them into a positives.”
Pickett lives in Newfield. She has three stepchildren and five grandchildren with husband Thomas Carr. Buena softball is also a way of life for Carr. Pickett held an Easter egg hunt for her team last weekend. Carr helped hide the eggs.(tncms-asset)3bef19a6-23ae-11e7-b2f5-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
“You can’t have a family at home that’s not willing to make that same commitment with you,” Pickett said.
Retired Middletown South coach Tom Erbig is the state leader with 743 wins. Buena is 7-2 with four freshmen starting this season.
Pickett doesn’t give a specific answer when asked how much longer she’ll coach and teach, but the program’s future looks promising. For the past few years, she’s told anyone who asks that she’s committed through June of that season. Pickett jokes she’s a bit more tired at night now and sometimes falls asleep in a chair.
“I never did that before,” she said with a laugh.
Pickett said coaching is what has kept her at Buena all these years. She found something at the school she didn’t know she was looking for 37 years ago.
“Now,” she said, “it’s home.”