Jessica Sallinger-Cole is a firm believer that if you’re going to dream, dream big.
She did and while fostering her dream of teaching the fundamentals of softball in her own space she found that sometimes reality can exceed those dreams.
That’s been the case with the space that now houses her recently opened T.E.A.M. Sports Academy, located at 91 International Ct., in Dallas, Ga. It’s about a 30-minute drive from where Kennesaw, where she grew up, and about 45 minutes from the Georgia Tech campus, where she made her name as the winningest pitcher in ACC history (109 wins), the conference’s all-time strikeout leader (1,398, fourth in NCAA history), an two-time all-American, three-time first-team all-ACC pitcher and Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 2015). She also pitched professionally with the Chicago Bandits of the National Professional Fastpitch league (NPF).
“When I first decided to do this, I was talking with my dad, it’s a little scary. We have a 20,000-square-foot building. We were looking for something a little bit smaller,” said Sallinger-Cole, with a laugh. “It was a pretty bare warehouse, so we had to put a lot of work into it. But the outpouring of support from the community and the parents of the kids that I’ve worked with has been really wonderful. It’s made the process a little bit easier and now we’re just trying to juggle everything. It’s a learning process. It’s going pretty well.
“Everything kind of happened I guess the way it should have happened,” she added. “We got a great facility, a great location — Paulding County is really up and coming for softball — so there’s some really great talent, some really great coaches and teams, so it’s a really great location for us and a sense of community.”
That same sense of community can be felt amongst the staff, as Sallinger-Cole has surrounded herself with a pair of dedicated instructors, including lifelong friend and former Kennesaw State pitcher, Missy Tolbert and renowned baseball instructor Austin Cauley.
“The best thing to happen to me was Austin Cauley and Missy Tolbert,” said Sallinger-Cole. “Missy, has connections in Paulding County in softball, she’s a great pitching instructor, we grew up playing together, so we have a friendship. It’s always fun to work with your friends. Austin is from Douglasville. He has been around the game and teaching and coaching for a very, very long time. His reputation is gold. I don’t think there’s a better person in Georgia to get building, instructing, hitting, and catching from. He is just phenomenal. So that’s what kind of really got the ball rolling with getting the phone ringing and kids and teams showing some interest.”
T.E.A.M. Sports Academy is open Monday through Friday, from 3 to 9 p.m. and on weekends by appointment, has numerous batting cages and fields that can be rented out by teams, and runs clinics covering all facets of the game, including hitting, fielding, pitching, catching, and strength and agility. That’s in addition to the instructors continuing to book private instruction.
One advantage for those receiving instruction from staff at T.E.A.M. is their high standard and their united philosophy. It provides continuity even when an instructor needs to take time away for personal reasons.
“Missy had a baby last year so I took her lessons while she was on maternity leave and that’s the kind of instructor we’re trying to build this with,” said Sallinger-Cole. “My lessons that I’ve worked with for such a long time, you become very protective of them. These kids are so dedicated to this game, their parents spend a lot of money. So we make sure that if we’re not available somebody is and they’re going to be taught by someone that has the same teaching style. We have the same beliefs in how pitching should be taught. So that’s comforting as an instructor.
“We’re trying to get some more instructors in,” she added. “All three of us are very selective on who we’re bringing in. A lot of facilities that I’ve worked in, there’s a lot of turnover with instructors. That’s not something that I want. I want instructors to be able to grow and stay and enjoy working at our facility so that’s another big focus, make sure we’re getting the right people in there.”
The clinics and instruction are open to kids of all ages — there are students ranging from 5 to 6 years old to a Kennesaw State pitching recruit — holding true to T.E.A.M.’s credo of “building tomorrow’s elite athletes today,”
“We have some good coaches aboard that are going to coach the teams and then we’re going to focus on the player development, mainly offseason and then maintaining in-season,” said Sallinger-Cole. “We’re really excited about that, a little bit more hands-on on the mound with some of our kids and being able to help the coaches a little bit at a time, transitioning them from a 10U to a 12U and running organized and efficient practices and making sure that the kids are improving and not just getting out there and taking the field every weekend type thing. We have our tryout dates and fields and things locked in. It’s been a great process so far, we’ve had great support and I have a great team that I work with. So it’s been really fun thus far.”
The fun won’t be limited to softball and baseball — thus the word “athletes” in T.E.A.M. Sports Academy’s credo.
Word has started to get out about the academy and teams have started to rent field space. While the clients have primarily been softball and baseball teams, T.E.A.M.’s space isn’t limited to those sports.
“We just recently met a soccer guy who wants to reserve space,” said Sallinger-Cole. “That’s kind of why we went with sports academy instead of baseball and softball. We want the ability to get as much as we can in there sport-wise.
“We have open field space so a lot of teams are reaching out to get their teams in for the winter, especially when it starts getting cold,” she added. “We’ve got a lot of cages and we have a built-in field space. So you have a little bit more of an opportunity to do somewhat of a whole practice. We’re going to offer a lot of classes, make it affordable to do so the kids can get a little bit of each skill and technique practice that they need. So we’re trying to touch everything.”
Touching everything and sharpening her skills on the business side has become a personal mission for Sallinger-Cole.
“The managing part, we have a software for scheduling. I knew I had to do it because having you schedule for different instructors and different areas and different times and days. So that probably has been my biggest headache,” she said. “I’m used to just taking a phone call or a text and putting it in my calendar. We’re getting our feet wet. We actually have all done a pretty good job with organizing events and structure but that’s really been the biggest thing, going from a lesson here or there and kind of moving around to having a 20,000-square-foot building. You think you’re going to have a ton of space but once the word gets out, people are in there, you really have to organize. Organization, for me, has been the biggest struggle.”
It’s a problem she’s happy to deal with.
“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “It’s better than the alternative.”