Coach Garrard Taylor and his Detroit Renaissance softball team is a program everyone should know.
In his 22nd season at Renaissance, the Greensboro, N.C., native has compiled a mark of 506-138, with only eight of those losses having come in the Detroit PSL. His Phoenix have won 11 straight Division I PSL titles, speaking to the tradition of excellence he has developed and maintained.
His emphasis on the true definition of a student-athlete has also catapulted his team to elite status inside the classroom. Not only has his team collectively recorded a 3.6 GPA this year, but six seniors possess a 3.7 cumulative GPA or higher – with all six having been named to the 2016 academic all-state team (Nijah Slaughter, Zahji Billingslea, Destiny O’dneal, Kayla Byrd, Terri England and Autumn Hoerauf).
This is something that’s more important to him than his 16 PSL championships and 18 appearances in the championship game.
Two of Taylor’s eight losses against PSL opponents have come in the PSL championship game – and his last loss against a PSL opponent came back in 2004 to Cass Tech in the city championship.
Yet, preaching the importance of education has always been priority No. 1 for Taylor, and the effects of it can be seen in the large number of former Renaissance softball players who have become dentists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc.
He supplements this focus on education by teaching his players the importance of being and staying committed to something, no matter if it’s on or off the softball diamond. And in doing so, Taylor hopes to instill in his team a sense of pride that will work in each player’s favor when they graduate from Renaissance and go to college and later join the workforce.
“You have to be competitive in whatever you do in life, and make the most of your opportunities,” Taylor said.
He speaks from experience.
Relocating from North Carolina to Detroit’s west side at the age of 12, Taylor attended Detroit Kettering High School, where he played football and was so good that he drew the attention of legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler.
Despite being recruited by Bo, he chose to attend Wichita State because Schembechler proved to be “too crazy” for his liking.
(According to Taylor, it’s something that Schembechler never forgot. Bo would bring it up to him whenever he ran into him in subsequent years at Pistons games when Taylor worked in public relations for the Pistons in the early 1980s.)
Taylor also proved to be capable softball player while playing in a variety of highly competitive softball associations with the “Motown Stars,” with whom he traveled across the nation and won 19 world championships.
He’s won a lot of softball championships as a coach and a player.
And his latest achievement will come October 1 when he’s inducted into the Detroit Negro Softball Hall of Fame. He previously was inducted into the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in Feb. 2012, the first – and so far, only – coach from the PSL to receive the honor.
“Each year, when I go to Lansing (the site of the HOF inductions) and see Renaissance and my name amongst all those great coaches, I instantly become very proud of that,” Taylor said.
Despite his Hall of Fame status, he admits to his fair share of mistakes. The key for Taylor, though, is that he doesn’t allow these mistakes to define him or to cause him to stop working hard. He strives to learn from each one of them.
This vital lesson applies directly to the surprising loss he and his squad suffered in the 2004 Division I PSL championship game.
According to Taylor, the 2004 team was his “best team on paper,” ranked third in the state going into its title game matchup with Cass Tech. So, when the Phoenix surprisingly went down in defeat, it forced some of his players to realize for the first time that they couldn’t “take anything for granted” when they stepped onto the field.
“Everybody wants to beat us,” Taylor said. “You can’t be satisfied with yesterday or today. It’s all about tomorrow.”
With this motto, his Phoenix come into the season once again as favorites to win the Division I PSL title. They were off to a 7-1 mark last week heading into last Friday’s contest against Grosse Ile.
Three of his top players this year are Slaughter and Billingslea and junior Jazzmaine Hammond. Slaughter is Renaissance’s ace pitcher while Billingslea is the team’s star outfielder and Hammond can play outfield and pitch.
Taylor makes it fun for the girls but also makes it hard on them as he “expects a lot,” according to Slaughter, who is attending Bowling Green on an academic scholarship this fall.
“You have to give 120% in every practice,” Slaughter said.
They work on the fundamentals, including baserunning, every single time they take the diamond, according to Billingslea.
And then, there’s the expected constant effort inside the classroom. Taylor tells his team at the beginning of each season that academics comes first, according to Slaughter.
Renaissance even employs a tutor for the team who also serves as an assistant coach – Dave McCall, who tutors the girls primarily in math and science-related courses.
And in a given week, it is not uncommon for the girls to meet inside the classroom for practice at least once. The girls work on their homework first, take a break while Taylor goes over some plays and then resume their homework until the practice session is over.
This level of dedication to work inside the classroom and to getting better on the diamond every single day is why Taylor runs a first-class program, the best high school softball program in the city of Detroit – and there’s no debating it.