Local softball luminary Bradney picked for Kansas Sports Hall of Fame – KUsports

Jill Larson Bradney had already been a three-sport athlete at Kansas and the Jayhawks’ first-ever softball All-American by the time she found her way to Perry-Lecompton High as an assistant volleyball coach.
“I had a friend that knew me, I was working here in town at a daycare center, I was trying to apply for some jobs, and I was going back and getting my master’s,” she recalled. “And they called and said that this position was going to be open, and if I’d be interested, and I said ‘Well, yeah, sure.’”
That trivial agreement turned into a venerable 37-year career. Bradney taught and coached in the school district in a variety of capacities, for a variety of age ranges, and served as the founding head coach of the Kaws’ softball program. She ushered that program through its first 28 years of existence before her retirement last year, and on Monday, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame honored Bradney by announcing her as one of its 12 inductees for 2023.
“I am super proud of her for it,” said Erin Damme, who played for Bradney in the early years of the program and succeeded her as coach this past season. “She has dedicated her life to softball.
“When she played in college, she dedicated herself to being the best. When she graduated, she came to Perry and started coaching and spent 28 years helping out all our local youth playing softball with all of her knowledge, me being one of them.”
Bradney, a Wichita native, came to Kansas when Title IX was in its infancy and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women still oversaw college sports. In the fourth and fifth years of her five-year program at KU, softball became a year-round sport for the first time, after she had played basketball as a freshman and then both volleyball and softball as a sophomore and junior.
Jill Larson Bradney was Kansas’ first-ever All-American in softball.
In her final season, the spring of 1981, Bradney led the Jayhawks in batting average, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and runs. Since then, she has had a front-row seat to the development of women’s sports at KU through her role on the board of directors of the K Club alumni group.
“It’s been amazing, and I’m so glad that we were kind of there to form that legacy,” she said. “There were people before me that pioneered how athletics are becoming now, and it’s just amazing to be a part of that, because women need to be recognized, they need to have those opportunities, because they’re good. It’s been exciting to be a part of that and kind of a building block, I should say, for that.”
A decade later, she made an impact on the community level when she helped start Perry-Lecompton softball. The program reached a critical mass of parent and student support and got approved by the board in time to start in 1994. It was a modest beginning: “We did have pants for our uniform, but we had T-shirts,” she said. “Then we kept growing and growing.”
She helped coach her team in “the college game, the short game,” their ability to be opportunistic on base hits.
“She never just told us to do something,” Damme said. “She always explained it to its fullest. There was always a reason for what we were doing, and it helped everybody understand.”
Bradney was also noted over the years for her positive and laid-back coaching style.
“Growing up I always had positive coaches,” she said, “and my parents were a big part of my accomplishments, and they were realistic with me, like, ‘You didn’t do this, but you did this well,’ and just trying to give me a positive outlook to continue to grow and not think that ‘Well, I don’t have to do anything else.’
The years she put into the Kaws’ program paid dividends when Perry-Lecompton reached the state playoffs in 2008 and 2017, a pair of appearances she fondly recalled. She also singled out Damme, who as Erin Erickson had a strong college career at Missouri, as a success story. She said it was a “no-brainer” that Damme would take over the program.
“I have been with her for 12 years coaching, which has helped because I got to learn from her,” Damme said. “She always put in extra hours. It wasn’t just at practice, she (put in) extra hours printing off articles or finding new drills. So now I hold myself to that. I have to find new things and keep it lively. So it’s hard but I’m very blessed to be able to do it in her footsteps.”
She said she also appreciates Bradney’s ability to keep tabs on her former players: “How many people has she been around, and she can still come out and be like, ‘I remember when,’ and those little things mean so much to everybody.”
Bradney, for her part, has found herself inexplicably busy in retirement (“I don’t know what I’ve done, but I’ve been busy”) — visiting her 100-year-old mother every day, watching her grandkids play soccer and basketball, and of course going to Perry-Lecompton softball games.
“It all went by really quick,” she said of her career, “but it all seems like everything was yesterday, you know … I would never have traded any of it. There were ups and downs, just like everything, but it was an amazing ride.”
Bradney’s induction will take place at the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane on Oct. 1.
Kansas unveiled Jill Larson Bradney’s retired jersey during a ceremony on March 28, 2015.


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