Hayley Downs makes the journey from center field to the press box at Mewborne Field.
Hayley Downs is from Grayson, Georgia and spent 4 seasons patrolling center field for the Yellow Jackets softball team from 2011-2014. She graduated from Georgia Tech in 2014 with a degree in Business Administration.
Downs bat over .300 in 3 of her 4 seasons and in her senior season she helped the Jackets lead the ACC in stolen bases swiping 20 out of 21. In that season she was also 7th the nation in sacrifice bunts. Georgia Tech won the ACC tournament during Hayley’s sophomore season (2012). Tech made went to two NCAA regionals during her career. Hayley made the All-ACC Academic team in 2012 and 2013.
Now Hayley spends her time at Mewborn Field in the press box as the color commentator for the ACC Network broadcasts. In her 3rd season on the mic, Hayley brings the audience closer to the softball program with her insight and experiences as a former Jacket. Hayley was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about her experiences at Tech, and on the mic.
Q: What drew you to the Georgia Tech softball program?
A: GT was the perfect package, premiere academics, athletics, and location. I also played travel ball with the East Cobb Bullets and a lot of my teammates ended up at GT. (Alysha Stanton-Rudnick, Jessica Sinclair, Karly Conley-Fullem, Chelsie Thomas, Hope Songolia-Rush).
Q: What are some of your fondest memories as a student athlete at Georgia Tech?
A: Oddly enough, some of my fondest memories came during the hardest days. Those hard days on the ball field/weight room/class room are still laughed about today with my former teammates. A specific memory would be winning ACC’s my sophomore year!
Q: You were named to the All-ACC Academic team a couple times during your career, talk about the effort it took to accomplish that as a student at Tech.
A: Nothing was easy at Tech. GT was a place with high standards in every capacity. I think the discipline required in softball helped me academically as well.
Q: How important were the academics at Tech during your recruitment process?
A: To be honest, teenager me didn’t consider it as highly as I do now. But I am eternally grateful for how it turned out! As a woman your athleticism won’t make you millions playing professionally so to be able to use it to get that GT degree is a huge win!
Q: Like the current upperclassmen you had the experience of a coaching change in the middle of your career, what words of wisdom were you able to share with the current players?
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A: You should never commit to a school for the coach alone. Coaching just like any other profession isn’t permanent! It’s never easy, but being able to adjust to a coaching change is good practice for the real world. (Ex: I’ve had 3 bosses in 1 year!)
Q: How did you get involved with the Georgia Tech broadcasts?
A: Christy Blair-Jones did it for a few years before me and let me sub for her a couple times. When she had baby Elle (who is the cutest little baby ever!) she wasn’t able to do it as often so I took over.
Q: Did you have any experience in media or broadcasting? Was broadcasting something you already had aspirations to do?
A: Other than the morning announcements in the 5th grade, no prior experience! I was coming to most home games (and talking the whole time) anyways so it just made sense to throw a mic on while I do it.
Q: Are there any broadcasters you looked up to or took notes from?
A: Jessica Mendoza: I love listening to her and followed her as she moved into baseball! Kyle Tait: He’s done GT play by play for a long time and has been my partner for quite a few games. He gives really excellent feedback and tips each game is always a great partner on air!
Q: What are some things that helped you improve as you went?
A: I like to turn games on and listen to other color commentators who, like me don’t do this professionally. Haylie McCleney is a great example! It gets easier with time as I get a little more comfortable each game.
Q: Describe the experience of seeing this program through the eyes of a broadcaster compared to a player or fan.
A: The biggest challenge is having to remain “neutral.” I can’t speak from strictly a GT fan perspective. It can be difficult to remember to call the players by their last names and not use “we” when talking about GT. I’m also able to see the details of the game a little more comprehensively.
Q: Watching the current team, is there anyone on the roster that reminds you of a younger version of yourself?
A: Since there are no slappers in the starting lineup, there are no hitters similar to me. But I was a very “excited” player so when I see a players super hyped after a big play (Hooper, Krzus, and Sonnon come to mind) it takes me back!
Q: What kind of prep work do you do before broadcasting games?
A: If replays are available, watching games is the most ideal way to prep. I like to put myself in players shoes and think about what type of approach would be needed offensively and defensively to win. I will look at stats to get a general idea of each player, but I like to focus more on the intangibles. Media guides and team social medias are excellent sources for fun facts!
Q: If you could pick one sporting event to call what would it be and why?
A: Softball will always be my #1 so lucky me that I already get to do it! But a close second would be MLB, particularly rivalry games or the Home Run Derby.
Q: Talk about what you think the growth of coverage on ESPN3 and other platforms has done for the sport.
A: It’s an excellent start! The fans are there, shown by the rating numbers put up every year during the WCWS. It allows the players to get visibility they deserve and young girls an opportunity to watch their role models!
Q: You were part of 2 teams that went to the NCAA Regionals, what does the program need to do to get back to that level?
A: I think we’re off to a great start! I’ve seen some tactical changes on the field as well as a general culture shift that shows a lot of potential! It won’t happen overnight, but the key is to become a “complete team” meaning you consistently have all the necessary tools (speed, timely hitting, power hitting, a versatile pitching staff).
I want to thank Hayley for taking the time out of her schedule to generously answer all my questions. You’ll notice quite a few explanation points in Hayley’s answers, as she says she was an “excited” player, and she is an excited person. She brings that same energy and enthusiasm to every game she calls which makes her a very enjoyable commentator. Fans can tune into Hayley and the rest of the broadcast crew during the next home Georgia Tech softball broadcast on April 18 against Presbyterian.