By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
As if Tuesday’s win wouldn’t already be memorable enough for Waxahachie head girls’ soccer coach Jason Venable, the match against visiting DeSoto at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium ended in a first for the hall-of-famer.
It took precisely 810 matches for Venable to see an official game end with a visiting team boarding their respective school bus with time remaining on the clock. The early departure came after a DeSoto player punched Waxahachie freshman midfielder Emilee Jones at midfield during a scrum for a loose ball.
All of those in attendance heard the connection; that much is certain. The haymaker didn’t seem to phase Jones or her teammates, though. They remained composed on the field and jovial on the sideline as they awaited a return to play.
The Lady Indians led 5-nil as the referees cleared the field with 21:03 to play. Roughly 25 minutes and a half dozen conversations between officials, coaches and athletic directors later, the DeSoto coaching staff decided it had seen enough, packed up and boarded their bus.
So, the only thing left for the District 11-6A Executive Committee to decide is if Venable’s 500th career coaching victory will officially go into the books as a 5-nil or 3-nil (forfeit) victory.
When asked if he had ever seen a game end in that fashion, Venable shook his head, pulled down his gaiter and replied, “Never. Never.” The coach with a tidy career record of 500-220-90 also noted that, at least in his books, the win would go down as 5-nil.
Venable recalled a few fights that led to the pitch being temporarily cleared before the match resumed. He also detailed one opposing side deciding they had had enough of the referees and leaving mid-match — but that was during a December scrimmage and not a district match.
“I mean, what a memory, right,” said Venable with a laugh. “[…] During that stoppage tonight, I did start to think, you know, “What are they doing? Are they going to be able to take away my 500th? Because, honestly, I wanted it tonight in front of our fans and my family. This was the night to do it and I’m honored to have done it here.”
“[…] This was just super special with it being the last game of the regular season and at home and with this group of seniors. I don’t like to make big things out of my accomplishments, but apparently, they all knew, even though I tried to keep it a secret. But, for whatever reason, that stuff always seems to get out.”
Venable’s first gig as a head coach came at Midlothian High in 1996. He has since spent a combined 36 seasons (18 boys, 18 girls) as a head soccer coach at Waxahachie, Midlothian and Colleyville Heritage High Schools. He has compiled a 294-66-43 record on the sidelines with Lady Indians and a 206-154-47 combined record while leading the three boys programs at Midlothian, Colleyville Heritage and Waxahachie.
Venable-led teams have appeared in five regional tournaments, won seven district championships and accumulated 38 playoff victories in 22 postseason appearances (10 boys, 12 girls) — and counting.
The Lady Indians are now 55-14-5 over the past three seasons with what would’ve been three consecutive playoff berths (thanks a lot, COVID). The third playoff berth, which is actually just the second, was secured Monday with a 9-nil road victory against Waco High.
Venable will lead the Lady Indians into his 23rd playoff appearance at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Waco Midway’s Panther Stadium against Bryan.
On March 2, 2015, Venable told the Waxahachie Daily Light that “It’s going to be really hard to get to 500, now that I’m only coaching one team. We’ll just have to see.” That victory came against Arlington Seguin, 4-nil, in a non-district match.
Venable doubled down on that mindset in 2018 and before he was inducted into the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches Hall of Honor in Nov. 2018. He had been nominated two years prior and boasted 445 career wins ahead of that 2018-19 season.
Venable had previously been named a TASCO Region II girls coach of the year in 2006 and 2010 and served on the TASCO board as a Region I and II director for several years.
As he prepared for his celebratory trip to Austin, Venable and I had a phone conversation to reflect on his career to that point. He was at his home in Ennis, where he was raised, and I had just stepped away from a small group of friends at the-since-closed Plaid Turtle in downtown Waxahachie.
While I paced the sidewalk with an iPhone on speaker and recorder held close, Venable quickly admitted that 1. He never envisioned being a soccer player, let alone a soccer coach (he wanted to be a head football coach) and 2. It had once pained him to wear Waxahachie green. We talked at length about soccer, family and life.
It was likely the same type of conversation that Venable has shared with his former players. The same talk is what’s very likely endeared him to fellow coaches and former players, as there was genuine care behind his words.
Venable said then that “It’s weird how things turn out, but some things are just meant to be.” He opened up about his first heart surgery while coaching in Midlothian and second life event that ultimately led to his leaving Colleyville Heritage.
Venable had already led the Panthers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2000 and 2001 and the first-ever district soccer championship for Midlothian ISD (2001). He departed later that same year with a 55-39-5 record and returned to his hometown of Ennis to coach junior high football.
One year later, Venable was once again assisting the Panthers on the soccer pitch and did so for the next three seasons. During that final season with the Panthers, an open heart surgery ended his football coaching career and forced Venable to focus solely on fútbol.
A short stint at 5A Colleyville Heritage saw the Venable-led boys’ squad compile a 32-10-8 record and one area championship appearance (2003). The second-round berth was the first in program history.
Venable and his wife, Jennifer, learned that she was pregnant with twins. The strain of driving from Ennis to Colleyville was quickly deemed too stressful for both his budding family.
He then “lucked” into the news that Waxahachie’s head soccer job had recently become available — thanks to a mysteriously placed Waxahachie Daily Light on his Ennis doorstep.
Venable was hired by longtime Waxahachie ISD athletic director Jerry McLemore soon after the 2002-03 soccer season concluded.
Eighteen years later, those twins are now juniors in high school and were on the sideline Tuesday night. Venable’s closet is also full of green garb and his heart full of Indian pride.
Venable arrived in Waxahachie in 2003 with just 87 career wins and three playoff berths over his first seven years as head coach. He led the Indians and Lady Indians until passing the reins of the boys’ program off to Seth Riley ahead of the 2014-15 season.
And here we are. The once football coach from rival Ennis now boasts 500 career wins and is in his 18th year with Waxahachie.
“ is going to be the end of the line there because I don’t see how I’m ever going to pass [Midlothian head coach Austin Guest],” laughed Venable, referencing a longtime friend and Midlothian head soccer coach who recorded his 600th career victory in mid-February. “I’m just going to coach for fun and see how it goes now. It’s a completely different outlook now. Even when I got to No. 300, I didn’t even know I had 300 until somebody told me, but I never thought I’d get to 400.
“[…] 500 has always been in the back of my head because I thought it would be pretty cool, and not many people get that high in soccer. This is just a great group and this is one of the best groups we’ve ever had. I knew I was getting close, and I wanted it this year, but I didn’t want to wait for a playoff game to try and get it, so it kind of fell at the right time.”
According to Venable, Guest called the Waxahachie head coach on Monday night to make sure the Lady Indians would go ahead and win Tuesday. He and Life Waxahachie head boys’ soccer coach Brent Stapleton were present Tuesday to take in Venable’s milestone win.
“I talked to Austin [Guest] the other day and asked him, ‘How in the heck did you do that?’ And he said it’s because of coaching boys and girls for so long, and I did too, but I told him the only real reason as to why we have gotten this high is because we are old and we’ve been here forever.”
As for 2020-21, Venable is excited for the postseason.
The Lady Indians will enter the 6A playoffs with their most complete side since jumping from Class 5A. They will also do so having finished 7-0-1 over their past eight matches. The Lady Indians have also posted a shutout in all eight matches — and are now 16-3-3 on the season. Waxahachie ultimately finished third in the District 11-6A standings.
“This group has seen it all,” Venable said. “Between the makeup games and COVID and kids sitting in quarantine, we finally got everybody back and a full team on the field three or four weeks ago. When that happened, everything started clicking.”
Next up? Win No. 501 and a first-ever extended 6A postseason run for the Lady Indians.
All photos by Travis M. Smith/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith