By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU Head Softball Coach Margie Knight (center) meets with her 2018 Salisbury team during a game vs. TCNJ. Feb. 24. Emma Reider photo
With many years of high school softball coaching under her belt, Margie Knight had a chance at an NCAA Division I coaching position. The opportunity of a lifetime for some brought Knight to the campus of the school for an interview.
However, the Salisbury University alumnus was uncomfortable upon driving to the interview. Once she was on the campus, something was off.
“It took me 15 minutes to go one block. And then the whole time I’m driving I’m like ‘there’s no roadkill here,’ meaning there’s no life. There were no extra critters or birds or squirrels or anything,” Knight said.
After graduating in 1979, the Catonsville, Md. native spent most of her career teaching and coaching on the Eastern Shore. The potential job opportunity made her realize the little things that she enjoyed about the region and her alma mater.
Her lessons and takeaways from SU were a central foundation for her careers in life.
“When I got to the place, I went ‘this isn’t what I want. The place I want is Salisbury University,’” Knight said. “My dream school was the place I attended. I had such a wonderful time while I was here.”
More than two decades later, Knight is the head softball coach at SU. Her journey brought her back to the school she loved.
Now the work she has put in at SU is bringing her to an additional destination, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) National Convention in December when see will be one of three people inducted into the organization’s 2018 Hall of Fame class.
“It’s a little stunning,” Knight said. “I think it’s an outstanding award from peers that I would go listen to, that I was educated by. Now I’m going to be able to walk in the door at the same time as them at the national convention.”
The head coach found out about the honor last December toward the end of the national convention held in Las Vegas. She was eating dinner with a few familiar colleagues when her name was the first to be called for the next Hall of Fame class, in front an audience of about 1,500 people.
Knight will be inducted alongside University of Tennessee Head Softball Coach Karen Weekly and winningest North Carolina high school softball Head Coach Mike Lambros posthumously.
When thinking about the honor, Knight’s mind immediately goes to people she’s admired in the collegiate sport like 2011 Hall of Fame inductee and longtime Ithaca College Head Coach Deb Pallozzi, or longtime University of Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea, who has over 1,500 wins.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with any of those people is just, I don’t know,” Knight said. “I think it’s still kind of foggy and still kind of a dream. I appreciate the people recognizing what I’ve done over my career.”
Her career is one filled with success both at the high school and collegiate levels. Prior to coaching at SU, Knight coached locally on the Eastern Shore at North Caroline High School for 13 seasons where she led the Bulldogs to state titles in 1988 and 1991.
With the Sea Gulls, Knight has had similar success through her current 22nd season in 2018. Her career is marked by a 778-179-2 record including nine NCAA World Series appearances.
As a top competitor, the 0.811 win percentage only makes Knight hungrier for more.
“Needs to be higher. We need to get it back up there. Like a friend of mine said a long time ago while I was coaching in high school, ‘that’s just a B, that’s a low B,” Knight said with a chuckle.
Her overall success with the program was not something unnoticed by her players such as former Sea Gulls Paige Knussman and Katie Sebbane, featured on the field from 2013 through 2016.
The former first team All-American and current SU softball assistant coach Knussman remembers the day Knight’s Hall of Fame induction was announced. She and all-conference infielder Sebbane were planning to start a campaign for their former coach in the future to get her the honor.
“That was our next step. Literally woke up that morning and saw it, and I was like ‘wow we don’t even have to do that, she’s in there,’” Knussman said.
Looking back on her time playing and coaching with Knight, Knussman sees the impact her coach has had on her.
“Knowing that I played for someone of that caliber, I wouldn’t have been the player I was without having leadership like her,” Knussman said.
That leadership is something Knight has gained through her past working and growing through the Salisbury University community.
Impacting Sea Gulls past and present
While there are many SU graduates, Knight is one of a select few that truly bleed the maroon & gold. The Sea Gull played on three different varsity teams while attending the school (women’s basketball, softball and women’s volleyball) in which she served as a captain on each team for at least two years.
Despite taking over the SU softball program in 1997, she also was at the helm of SU women’s volleyball until 2012, leading the Sea Gulls to eight NCAA Tournament appearances. In 1995, Knight was inducted into the Salisbury Athletics Hall of Fame
In her success in many sports on the field and on the sidelines, Knight points to the people around her as the key. She acknowledges the many teachers and mentors she’s encountered during her time on the Eastern Shore.
As a college student, Knight encountered many impactful leaders such as former SU football and wrestling coach Mike McGlinchey, who led SU’s football program to their lone national title appearance in the 1980’s. She remembers a class she had with the former Sea Gull head coach.
“What he did for the young teachers or want to be teachers here was probably just as good if not even better [than what he did for SU Athletics],” Knight said.
That is a pattern Knight sees across many SU leaders over the decades.
“I’ve had great bosses. I’ve had wonderful leaders that were ahead of me and telling me what to do. They let me do my own thing,” Knight said.
Whether it was SU President Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, SU Athletics Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo, or former SU Athletics Director Dr. Michael Vienna, she points to them as a support system to keep her hard work going and thriving over the decades.
Still today, her first high school principal from when she began as a teacher, Dave Jones, comes to visit SU softball games to cheer on Knight and her accomplishments.
The leadership she’s seen in those teachers and mentors is something Knight exemplifies today in her head coaching roles, promoting academics alongside career and character development in student-athletes.
“Now I’ve been able to come back and give back like they did for me. I think that’s been a really cool thing. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because I got to work at the place I wanted to be,” Knight said.
Giving back to her alma mater is a foundation for one the most successful programs in NCAA Division III softball. When talking about the program, Knight immediately points to the many players that have worked under her wings to become strong women within their own communities.
Knight remembers two spectrums of athletes that come into her clubhouse. Some have the athletic ability but do need a push in off the field activities and in the classroom. Others are devoted to the classroom and also perform on the field, but at the end of the day her goal is to get both to see their strengths and excel by the time they leave.
Helping Knight in her program goals over the years has been a consistent force in Dr. Tom Stitcher, one of her assistant coaches. Through both tough and successful seasons, Stitcher has been by Knight’s side coaching the SU softball program.
That continuity spreads through veteran players and returning players that come to coach, preaching the same methods and support as Knight.
“The continuity in the program has been a real plus to our players. We’ve had outstanding athletes. There’s no question about it, people that are dedicated,” Knight said.
Knight acknowledges the support she receives both recently and in the past from leaders. It is a way to keep her confident and motivated to continue striving to make that earlier ‘B’ into an ‘A.’
“I don’t think it’s a one-person show,” Knight said. “I’ve had people that believed in what I’ve done. Because they believed the path I wanted to take them, we’ve been successful.”
That path was one Knussman decided to take nearly six years ago when she enrolled at Salisbury University. The former Sea Gull power hitter has seen Knight through the eyes of a player and now as a colleague.
While Knight will always point to others as a path to her own success and development, Knussman sees within her head coach and mentor what allows each Sea Gull to excel.
“She cares about the person,” Knussman said. “She cares about you like as an individual and as an athlete. You can come [in her office] if you’re just having a bad day, and she knew how to make you feel better. She just always puts us first. That’s why we’re so successful.”
When Knight is inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame next December, she will be there both for her remarkable win total and softball successes, but also for the impacts she has made on countless student-athletes both at the high school and collegiate levels.
For Knight, teaching and mentoring the Salisbury-way as she saw with her bosses and former mentors has risen colleagues and student-athletes to their best. Now, her former players like Knussman in the future will take it a step further mentoring, caring and supporting the way they know best, the Coach Knight-way.