Reflections on a second career

Wednesday, August 2, 2017
The 2015 Forrest Lady Rockets jump on the beach in Florida in their state championship season.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

I’ve had two jobs in the last 41 years. I worked 30 years for General Motors before retiring in 2006, ready to utilize the bachelor’s degree I earned in Healthcare Administration from the University of Phoenix to start a new career.

But first, I wanted to take some time in between and play some golf and just do some chores around the house. Opening the Tribune one day, I saw a help wanted ad for a sports reporter and I said to myself, that may be a good way to pass some time, plus I have always loved sports and loved to write even more.

The editor at that time was Jamie Bone and he gave me an assignment to go cover a middle school football game at Cornersville and the experience was something I will never forget as the coaching duo of Eric and Corey Crabtree welcomed me with open arms. I immediately loved the experience of standing on the sidelines and watching the kids play.

Writing the story was the easy part and Mr. Bone offered me a part time job. As they say, the rest is history and about two years later I became a full time sports writer and worked my way to sports editor a few years ago.

I sat down recently and figured out that I have covered over 44,000 sporting events in that time period, mostly middle school and high school games and a fair amount of college and professional sporting events.

My daughter Kiyoko is leaving for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this weekend and like most parents, it is a time of serious reflection.

I have been going through some old photos lately on my backup hard drive and in the course of that experience I have decided to do some reflections on the last 11 years as a sports writer in Marshall County.

Firstly let me say that I am honored to have this position and even more honored in meeting all the great people here in the county and beyond throughout my journeys.

If I leave anyone out during the course of this exercise I apologize up front.

My memory is not the best these days.

Secondly, I could not have done this without the help of my ex-partner Louis G. Scheuchenzuber, who worked tirelessly for several years before pursuing a new career in education. Thanks Louis!

Let’s start with some of the best moments of my career.

I will give a detailed account of the top five and just list the rest.

Number one by far is when the Forrest Lady Rockets captured their second state softball championship in 2015.

It’s personal.

I watched and coached my daughter play the game since she was eight years old and as everyone knows, when a girl is serious about softball, it takes up most of your time on the home front.

The Marshall County Little League became the front line for many years with another great friend, Dwayne Dowers doing the majority of the head coaching with the Chapel Hill Cruisers and later on, Sambos.

It was fun and it was challenging as the competition at that time in Little League was top notch and it made all the girls better.

Oh, don’t let me forget that this was the time we met two coaches that made a difference for years to come.

Their names are Gumby and Potty; alias Mike Wortham and Scott Walls.

The highlight of every year was being chosen to play for the all-stars and Kiyoko was chosen to play for the 10-year old stars and loved the experience of the great competition and the comradery with the other girls.

We went to Memphis that year for the state tournament and played well, but lost after a weird concurrence with a belligerent Northwest team from Clarksville.

Anyone who knows softball also knows that the bonds developed with such an experience last a lifetime.

By age 12, we had put together a really stout squad and won the state title in Lewisburg and went to the Southeast Regional Tournament in Richmond, Virginia, coming home in third place as we watched our great friends from Washington, North Carolina take down their archrivals and perennial powerhouse Pitt County, NC.

We did a lot of barking that year and played really, really good softball.

From there that group of girls stayed together for a long time, playing travel ball on the same team with Gumby and Potty for Force ‘96’ and later on the Tennessee Rage.

We won a lot of titles and were always competitive for years to come.

At the same time, Kiyoko was called up to the high school team in eighth-grade, the same year Forrest legend Katie Warrick transferred from Community.

Anyone who knows Forrest softball also knows that the program is highly competitive, stressful, hard and very, very successful.

Three new coaches emerged to put an indelible mark on her life.

Forrest head coach Becky Cheatham, her husband Dick and assistant coach Ricky Stinnett became her mentors on the field for the next five years.

Kiyoko was battling for a starting spot in the outfield in her maiden year before tragedy struck at the Border Battle in Fayetteville on Saturday April 9, 2011 when she ran into the fence chasing a foul ball in pre-game warmups.

I never felt my feet touch the ground as I ran to her aid and when I arrived first to see her, all I saw was blood coming out of her eyes and nose. That was one of the most frightening moments of my life.

Taken away by ambulance, Kiyoko was diagnosed with a severe concussion and did not play again that season.

She played some and ran a lot in her freshman year and played a lot more as a sophomore and then started as a junior before sustaining her second concussion in pre-game warmups at Spring Hill on April 21, 2014.

Although she came back later in the year, she was not the same player.

I need to mention two other people here who made a difference in her life.

This was a year where the travel team kind of had a hiatus, but I decided to keep it going and went out looking for a coach and the first person who came to mind was Kiyoko’s first hitting coach Nicole Vincent, a former Blackmon softball player and outfielder for Tennessee State University who had a practice facility in an outbuilding on her parents property in College Grove.

She was awesome and always will be awesome.

Kiyoko’s strengths had always been her speed and at this time we decided that she needed to go from a right-handed batter to a slapper to utilize her strength.

I called on Chase Perryman to take on the task and he taught her great, but more importantly, restored her confidence and it worked.

In 2015, everything came together for the Forrest squad as they gelled as a unit with the process becoming totally cohesive in Panama City, Florida.

They swept all three games in Florida and went on to start the season with a 14-0 record before losing four games in a row, all to Class 3A teams at the Raptor Classic in Brentwood.

That was a good kick in the butt and from there, the Lady Rockets went 21-1 for the remainder of the season, winning 18 straight to cap off the year with the school’s second state championship.

As most of you know, I’m on the field performing my job as all of this is going on.

As fate would have it, Kiyoko caught the final out of the title game in centerfield and before the ball came down, I was almost at second base, waiting for my daughter to jump in my arms.

Hands down, the best moment ever in my sporting life!

In her five years at Forrest, the Lady Rockets posted a 137-39-1 overall record and went 55-5 in District 9-A play, while going to the state tournament four out of the five years.

Dont’a Hightower sores touchdown in first professional game.

The second best moment came on September 9, 2012 when Lewisburg football legend Dont’a Hightower played his first professional game with the New England Patriots in Nashville versus the Tennessee Titans.

I had first covered Hightower at Marshall County High School and actually went to his house around Christmas of his sophomore year to do a feature article.

When I walked out the door I knew this kid was special and what he had told me would definitely come true.

Hightower didn’t really talk about playing professional football at the time, but he did tell me that all he ever wanted to do was play football on Saturdays on TV.

Guess what, after winning Mr. Football his senior year, Nick Saban came calling from the University of Alabama and Hightower went on to win two national championships with the Crimson Tide before being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

His first pro game in Tennessee, are you kidding me. Talk about Fate’s dealing!

I had my media pass and was on the sidelines, filled with excitement and a great sense of proudness for Hightower.

The Patriots took a 7-3 lead in to the second quarter and on the Titans second possession of the period they were backed up at their own 10-yard line.

I decided to take off for the end zone position and try to get some photos of Hightower in his linebacker position.

A Jake Locker incompletion on first down was followed by a Hightower tackle for a 3-yard loss on second down.

On third down, Locker took the snap and dropped back before he was sacked by Chandler Jones.

The ball came loose and was picked up Hightower, who rumbled his way into the end zone (just like the heavy package in high school) for a touchdown and I was like right there, capturing that incredible moment as it happened.

New England went on to blow out the Titans 34-13 and Hightower cemented his spot in the NFL.

The Lewisburg kid has won two Super Bowls and played in three AFC title games in five years.

That touchdown remains his only score of his career.

Lyssa Wiles, Jason Donahue, Tori Richardson and Dickie Adkins after winning the state doubles tennis title in 2007.

Number four on my list happened was in 2007 in a period that will forever be etched in my mind.

As I covered the Dickie Adkins and Jason Donahue coached Marshall County Tennis Tigerettes throughout that season something special began to develop as the girls doubles team of senior Tori Richardson and junior Lyssa Wiles played great tennis and they had spunk and determination.

They also wanted to win a state title for Adkins, who had come close during his 20-plus years coaching career at MCHS.

Richardson and Wiles stormed through the season and after crushing thorn in the side Page at Summertown in the Region finals, the dynamic duo was off to the Spring Fling.

These girls were determined and good.

After losing the first set of their first match they came back to sweep the next two sets to move on to the semifinals where they won in straight sets 6-2, 6-3.

In the finals they played Ellen Ross and Julianne McMeen from David Lipscomb.

Marshall County won the first set, but fell 2-6 in the second set to the private school girls.

That was it.

I can hear the cry from Adkins still as he spurred his girls on with “Come On” time and time again as the duo played at another plane to win a heart crushing 6-4 final set and become the first tennis title team.

That was also my first state championship as a reporter and those two girls and the coaches and parents from that team will be forever remembered in my heart.

The Marshall County 12-year all-stars’ team that went to World Series in Florida in 2012.

Number three is the Marshall County 12-year old softball team that made a historic trip when they earned a berth in the Babe Ruth World Series in Alachua, Florida in 2012.

That was the only World Series berth for any Babe Ruth team until this year as the 15-year old boys team is slotted for a berth in the World Series next week at Lawrenceburg.

The team was coached by another one of my favorite coaches and good friend, Danny Hollingsworth.

Hollingsworth can coach and he did that summer as he took a talented squad to Florida on a trip that was totally awesome and unforgettable.

What a week!

Marshall County beat Angola, Indiana 10-2 in the first game and secured a dramatic 3-2 come from behind win over host Santa Fe, Florida in the second game.

They let down in game three, losing 4-2 to Mineral Area, Missouri.

Hollingsworth lit the fire under his girls after the loss and they came back with three straight wins, beginning with an extra inning 5-2 win over Audubon, Pennsylvania.

The Marshall County all-stars followed with wins over Hazlet, New Jersey (10-0) and 4-1 over Prairie Village, Kentucky in the first round of double elimination bracket play.

In the next game, the girls played Lodi, California and went toe-to-toe with the ultra-talented west coast squad before falling 5-4.

Samantha King made history in the game, hitting the first home run ever over the fence at the Stadium Park in the Hal Brady Recreation Complex in Alachua, FL and only the second dinger in the last seven years in World Series play.

Now, you would have to have followed softball and Hollingsworth for a while to know about the history between the two teams in the next game.

Pitt County, North Carolina has won more World Series titles (7) than anyone and Hollingsworth had taken a few lumps from the Pitt County crew in the past.

After Marshall County scored three runs in the first inning, Pitt County turned on the after burners and won going away 16-3 to eliminate Hollingsworth’s gallant squad.

The sun shines on the Tigerettes at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro during their state championship run in 2008.

The fifth spot was a tough one, but in the end it was the Marshall County Tigerettes basketball team that captured the school’s fourth state title in 2008.

After a runner-up finish in 2007, the David Steely coached Tigerettes were poised and ready for success in 2008 with a solid, all-around talented squad, led by junior Lauren March in the low post.

March was flanked by Jakerra Simmons with Jessica “The Assassin” McQueen and McKenna Moffett manning the back court with Danica “The Glove” Hopkins serving as the defensive specialist and NeNe McLean coming off the bench.

The Tigerettes went 13-1 to start the season with the only loss coming at the Columbia Rotary Tournament when they got banged up in a 51-35 loss to Obion County.

They went 8-3 to finish the regular season before seeping the District 10-AA and Region 5-AA Tournaments to earn a berth in the state sectionals versus Bolivar Central at Dottie Kelso Memorial Gymnasium in Lewisburg.

They blew out their namesakes 62-41 to secure a berth in the state tournament at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.

The Tigerettes cruised to a 74-45 win over Gibson County as March scored 22 points, while Moffett (13) and Hopkins (12) were also in double figures.

In game two, the Tigerettes played McMinn Central and the game went to the wire with Marshall County prevailing 45-43 behind 23 March points.

Milan was the final roadblock for Marshall County and the game was knotted at 40-40, entering the final quarter.

It was all Tigerettes from there as they outscored Milan 14-6 in the fourth quarter to win the Class 2A championship.

Incredibly, all four of MCHS’s state titles (1972, 1976, 1980, 2008) have come in leap years.

Here are the rest:

2008 Forrest softball state championship.

Cornersville’s David Looney tosses a pair of gems to win at Forrest in both the 2015 and 2013 sectional games.

Beth Hawn winning Miss Basketball.

MCHS’s Joe George coaching baseball.

Forrest’s Zach Horvath tosses back-to-back no-hitters in middle school.

Anytime Luke Terry plays.

Forrest’s Boone Sweeney winning Mr. Football

Forrest’s Boone Sweeney winning Mr. Football

Forrest’s Logan Hollingsworth tosses no-hitter at Vanderbilt in 2014.

Seth Lintz golfing or pitching for MCHS.

Mike Minor gets win in first start with the Braves in Atlanta in 2010.

Anytime Spook Clark coaches Little League girls.

Alex Brewer sends Forrest to state tournament with seventh inning homerun at Summertown in 2014.

Anytime Steve Hobbs coaches the Elks or the all-stars.

Forrest wrestling: Morgan Abrigo/Tyler McClendon/Jeff Gross

Ty Hengesbach hit the game winner in World Tournament to cap off undefeated season for FMS in 2015.

Ty Hengesbach game winner in World Tournament that capped off undefeated 20-0 record for FMS in 2015.

Bart Joyce coaching football or baseball.

Alex Brewer winning Mr. Baseball.

Jerrie Henry coaching the Tigerettes.

Doc Miller’s Forrest girls soccer team that went to sectional at FRA in 2006.

Joy McMasters coaching at Cornersville Middle School.

Kedron Johnson winning Mr. Basketball.