Chowning ready ‘to make an impact’ in home town as new softball coach at Bonner Springs High School
Denise Chowning finally decided that it was best to play closer to home.
In early July, Chowning — the USD 204 social worker in the district’s special education department — decided to take on the additional task as the Bonner Springs High School softball head coach after spending the last four years as the head coach at Turner High School.
Chowning replaces Kara Wardlow, who stepped down after the 2011 season. Wardlow had served as head coach for the previous two seasons and one year as interim head coach.
For Chowning, the decision was all about making a contribution to her community.
“I was really wanting to make a bigger difference in our school district and to be more involved in the lives of our students here,” Chowning said. “I’ve been at Turner the last four years while working in Bonner Springs, and that has been a challenge. I wanted to make an impact where I live.”
Chowning comes to the Bonner Springs program with quite a softball pedigree. As a high schooler at Turner, Chowning was part of two teams that advanced to the state tournament before graduating in 1997. After high school, Chowning was a pitcher at Emporia State for two years before transferring to the University of Kansas, where she earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s in social welfare. Her first four years in education were spent at Shawnee Mission East, where she was both the “C” Team softball coach and a varsity assistant before moving on to coach at Turner.
Chowning comes into the position with the Braves not unfamiliar with the program. Her Turner squad split with Bonner Springs last season and has been a regular opponent of BSHS. Chowning has seen both the positives of the program and its areas for improvement.
“I saw some things we can improve, but I also saw a lot of talent,” Chowning said. “Though there are a lot of things to improve on, there’s a lot of potential there. I know that there were a couple of girls from Bonner Springs on the All-League second team.”
First baseman Kylie Timberlake, shortstop Breanna Tendick and center fielder Shelbie Thornton were All-Kaw Valley League second team selections this year, while third baseman Cassady Holloway was an honorable mention selection. All four will be seniors on Chowning’s first squad.
Chowning takes over for Kara Wardlow, who guided the Braves the past two years before stepping down after the season.
Chowning hopes to improve the program by bringing her players together to form a tight-knit unit. She believes in the benefits of getting teammates to have each other’s backs and to realize their need for each other’s success.
“I believe in a team having fun and being a family,” Chowning stated. “Softball, a lot of times, is just another family. Teammates need to learn to respect each other, their coaches, their teachers, umpires, family and fellow students. I believe in a commitment to respect and working your hardest.
“At Turner, this past season, the girls really connected this year and they really fed off of that. I had a great coaching staff and we really worked well together to have a great year. We were a really strong offensive team and we had a sophomore pitcher that really improved as the season went along.”
So does that mean Bonner Springs fans should expect to see a similar high-octane offensive attack? Not necessarily, according to Chowning.
“We’ll use whatever the girls have,” Chowning said. “If they have a lot of speed, we’ll emphasize speed. If they’re strong defensively, we’ll emphasize defense. I think you need to take the strength of your girls, and make it your team’s strength.”
Chowning hasn’t been on the new job too long. After the position was posted in June, Chowning was offered and accepted the position in early July. So, for now, her emphasis is on getting to know her players.
“We’re going to have a ‘meet the coaches’ night soon, and then we’ll see how many are still playing summer ball and try to get out and see them play,” she said. “Then we’ll try and have a pitchers’ and catchers’ clinic during the school year for some of the younger girls. We’re also going to try and do a lot with the rec center and start building our program from the youth side up.”