When the girls of the Scream 12U fastpitch team end practice, they never leave without a huddle, hug, and proudly declaring their team name followed by the word, family. For the past three years, the 12- and 13-year-old girls have spent hundreds of hours together, hitting balls, stealing bases, and winning tournaments. At the center of this special bond, you’ll find DJ Funk, a beloved coach with the heart of a dad.
“When other coaches ask me at a game, ‘which one is my daughter? I respond, they’re all my daughters,’” said DJ Funk.
DJ first started coaching softball about 15 years ago. However, his passion for teaching began when a devastating football injury ended his sports career. During his senior year in high school, DJ severely fractured his leg and ankle during practice.
“The doctors at the time almost had to amputate, but they were able to save my leg,” said DJ.
Over the years, DJ had undergone 18 surgeries, including a hip replacement at 31-years-old. The injury led him to stay in Spokane and eventually marry his wife, Shelby. As DJ will tell you, Shelby is the reason the softball team runs smoothly.
“She’s the multitasker. She schedules all of our tournaments, does all the paperwork. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her,” said DJ.
The entire Funk family helps when they can. DJ and Shelby’s daughter played college softball and gives the girls pointers when she’s home. Their son helps with batting and throwing balls.
“It’s a family affair,” said DJ.
DJ loves the fast-paced nature of the sport, watching the girls learn new skills, and when he’s out on the field, for a moment, he can forget about the constant pain in his ankle.
“1,000 percent it takes my mind off of it. That’s why I like it so much. It’s also so much fun. It keeps me young,” said DJ.
While DJ loves to win games, it’s equally essential for the girls to grow and develop their batting, catching, and running skills. Once or twice a week, the team practices and spends the weekends traveling across the region to Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
Angie Bridge drives her daughter, Kyndal, nearly an hour to practice from her home in Coeur d’Alene because of DJ’s positivity and encouragement.
“For him to instill the love of the game in my daughter, it means the world. We’re so lucky to find a supportive coach. The girls know he and Shelby have their backs on and off the field,” said Angie Bridge.
And Coach DJ does it all without accepting a dime. As Angie will tell you, he even paid for a tournament out of his pocket.
“He does it all out of the kindness of his heart. Usually, coaches will be paid, but they refuse,” said Angie.
DJ is the type of coach who strikes a balance between fun and hard work. He often weaves encouraging messages into practice.
“I tell them, ‘you can choose what you want to be around.' I choose to be happy and positive, and I think that’s how you act, too. I also tell them, ‘the sky’s the limit,’” said DJ.
With a three-tournament winning streak under their cleats, the team is training for a state tournament in Boise and a world championship in Reno. He hopes to coach the team until they graduate from high school.
“We’re improving like crazy, and that is the best part,” said DJ.
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