Thompson out to build up Morton College women’s softball program

Jim Thompson, a competitive bodybuilder and power lifter, was hired as head coach to bulk up a Morton College women’s softball program that has had plenty of sand kicked in its face over the last decade.

Thompson, also a familiar voice to listeners on the Ottawa sports radio scene in central Illinois for over 30 years, looks forward to being the face of Morton College women’s softball.

He thinks big and why not? His ultimate goal is to get Morton College to the NJCAA World Series, but Thompson realizes he has to take care of first things first.

“Job number 1 is to make Morton College a destination place for high school girls who want to begin their career path,” Thompson said. “There’s no better place to begin than at a community college. I went to a community college and it was the best decision I ever made. Small class sizes, better opportunities to interact with the teachers – it gives you a great two-year foundation. We just need to get the word out.”

Thompson, a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association’s Hall of Fame, knows how to sell. He owned a successful Lincoln-Ford-Mercury-Kia car dealership in Ottawa for 20-plus years, so selling a potential student-athlete and their family on the overall Morton College experience won’t be difficult for Thompson.

“I want to get around to the schools and tell them all the features and benefits that Morton College offers,” Thompson said. “Being a student comes first. We have to prepare you for life after school.”

Thompson has coached baseball and softball for over 40 years. He’s been at every level, ranging from Little League and PONY to community colleges to women’s travel softball teams. A women’s slow-pitch softball team he ran in the Streator-Ottawa-Morris area was named one of the top 10 stories of the 1980s by the Ottawa Daily-Times.

He considers himself lucky to have been associated with successful baseball coaches such as Gordie Gillespie and Dave Randall, who combined for close to 2,800 career wins at the college level. 

Growing up in Joliet, Thompson was among the many young people influenced by Gillespie. Thompson played park district baseball for Gillespie, who won five state football titles at Joliet Catholic and 1,893 baseball games at three different stops.

Thompson, who played baseball and hockey at Joliet Junior College and majored in philosophy at Lewis University, later took a baseball class from Gillespie at Lewis.

“He’s my biggest coaching influence,” Thompson said. “I took a baseball class from him at Lewis. It was only offered at 8 a.m. and I swore I’d never take an 8 a.m. class. But for 50 minutes, it was just electric.”

Thompson also spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons at Illinois Skyway rival Waubonsee as the baseball team’s pitching coach. During that time, the Chiefs finished third and fourth at the NJCAA Division III tournament under Randall, who won 895 games during a 37-year run at Waubonsee.

His association with Gillespie and Randall also provided Thompson with the foundation he operates his program.

“From my players, I expect a commitment to the weight room and knowing how to run the bases and playing defense,” Thompson said. “Offense comes and goes. There’s no excuses for poor defense and poor base running. Those are constants.”