Sussex Central coach could pull off rare championship double

Brad Myers
Delaware News Journal

GEORGETOWN – John Wells answered the question before it could be asked.

How do you coach football and softball, two sports that appear to have little in common?

“Really, I try not to treat them any different,” he said. “They’re athletes. I tell them that from the word go. You’re playing a sport, you’re an athlete. You try to get better, and that’s the bottom line.”

Sussex Central softball coach John Wells discusses strategy with Takyla Davis during Tuesday's 9-0 victory at Sussex Tech. Wells coached the Golden Knights to the DIAA Division I football title in December, and could earn another crown this spring with the state's top-ranked softball team.

Wells pours the same passion and intensity into both at Sussex Central, with a long track record of success.

In fact, the Golden Knights could win state championships in both sports in the same school year.

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“It would be incredible,” first baseman Aryanna Briddell said. “It’s something we’re definitely working toward, and it’s something we want for him. Because he’s really dedicated to this team, and I think it would really make him happy.”

In December, Wells guided the Sussex Central football team to its second DIAA Division I crown in three years and was named D-I Coach of the Year by the Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association.

John Wells (bottom center) celebrates with his football team after Sussex Central won the DIAA Division I championship in December. This spring, Wells has a chance to win another state title as coach of the Golden Knights' top-ranked softball team.

The success has continued in the spring. The Golden Knights lost a 2-1, extra-inning heartbreaker to Smyrna in the softball season opener, but have reeled off 14 straight wins since and are ranked No. 1 statewide by Delaware Online.

One of those victories – 10-0 over Newark Charter on May 1 – was the 400th of Wells’ softball coaching career.

“Football has always been real competitive, and a challenge,” Wells said. “But softball, I think people overlook it maybe. It is so competitive. Great pitchers up and down the state. The strategy, the great coaches that game plan well. The competition in both sports is really high.”

Sussex Central was certainly flying high on Tuesday, looking solid in all phases on the way to a 9-0 win at fifth-ranked Sussex Tech.

Sussex Central softball coach John Wells congratulates catcher Katelyn Evick after her second home run during the Golden Knights' 9-0 win at Sussex Tech on Tuesday.

The defense was error-free, with all nine players handling the ball at least once. The offense hit for average (14 hits overall) and for power (two towering home runs from catcher Katelyn Evick). And freshman Madge Layfield pitched a three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts.

“I thought we played our best game of the year,” Wells said.

Of course, that’s not enough. There are three games left in the regular season, then the DIAA playoffs. He drives the Golden Knights to get better each day.

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“He knows how much potential we have and how much our team has grown from the beginning,” Evick said. “He’s very motivated and dedicated to keep us going.”

Wells played baseball and football at Indian River, then went on to graduate from Salisbury University. He has been the head football coach at Sussex Central for 25 years, the head softball coach for 26 seasons.

He has led the Golden Knights to the top twice in football (2018 and 2020) and three times in softball (1995, 2005 and 2008).

But he has also seen Sussex Central come up short in four football title games and three softball finals.

“I’ve been there and been surprised with playoff wins, and I’ve been there and got upset in the playoffs,” Wells said. “So there’s no looking forward.”

Briddell is the only senior starter on the softball team, which has three freshmen in the lineup.

One of them is Layfield, who gave the rest of the state a glimpse of what the next four years may hold with 20 strikeouts in her high school debut – that loss to Smyrna.

“Catching her, I know that she’s going to do well every game,” Evick said. “So I don’t have to worry about anything, like going in the dirt. … I’m just ready for all of her pitches. She’s a great athlete, and she’s going to improve these next three years.”

Sussex Central players take the field after meeting with coach John Wells (left) to start Tuesday's 9-0 win at Sussex Tech.

Layfield focused on keeping her pitches outside against Sussex Tech, because she said the Ravens “can smash the inside pitch.”

She is looking forward to seeing how far Wells can take the Golden Knights this year – and throughout her high school career.

“He’s intense, but he does it for the good of everyone,” Layfield said. “He was getting on me today because I was missing some of my spots, but I knew that he was just trying to make me better. … He is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”

It’s a rare combination, teaching the Wing-T offense in the fall and sacrifice bunts in the spring. But Wells has proven to be adept at both, and this spring the Golden Knights could carry him to a rare coaching double.

“That would be amazing for him,” Layfield said. “It’s been a while since he’s won a state championship for softball, and I definitely think he’s ready.”

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ