Stinnett comes full circle in return to Lady Rockets, replaces coaching legend
If anyone on the planet understands what Forrest softball represents it’s the Lady Rockets’ new head coach, Shelby Stinnett.
“I’m excited and I’m humbled,” said Stinnett. “This is something I have looked forward to since I was eight when I used to be handed over top of the dugout.”
“A lot of people don’t know it, but in elementary school I used to beg my parents to go to the ballgames, I would cry if I didn’t get to go to the Forrest softball games.”
The sudden departure by Forrest coaching legend Becky Cheatham due to undisclosed reasons opened the door for Stinnett’s return to varsity coaching.
“Lucky for me, I got to play under her (Cheatham) and got to coach under her as well, so I got to see some things that she has done and how to handle a successful program,” Stinnett said.
Under Cheatham’s reign, the Lady Rockets became a Tennessee state softball powerhouse that holds an all-time 33-29 state tournament mark and 16 appearances with state titles in 2008 and 2015.
Forrest finished runner-up four times (2002, 2007, 2009, 2017) at the state tournament, went six years in a row from 2012-2017 and five straight times from 2006-2010. That’s domination!
“This program has had tons of success and my goal is to come in and keep it rolling,” Stinnett said. “When people think of Forrest softball I want them to think about pride and tradition and I want them to know who we are when we walk in the ballpark.”
Stinnett, a 2009 Forrest graduate and dominant All-State pitcher always wanted to be a Lady Rocket and desperately wanted to bring the school its first state championship which came to fruition in the 2008-2009 season when Chapel Hill posted a 37-7 record and came out of the loser’s bracket, shocking two-time defending champion Trinity Christian Academy with back-to-back wins.
“Starting back to when I was kid, looking at Anna Marie Odum and that 2002 group, that was the group I looked forward to watching and I wanted to be with. I remember them making it to Chattanooga and literally handing me over the top of the dugout, so ever since that day it was just becoming a Lady Rocket,” Stinnett said. “Then when I think I finally got that opportunity in that high school moment it was hey, I’m gonna win a state championship.”
“It was not for me, it’s for the program, for the community, its means a whole lot more than for myself. It means it for the school, it’s something we can look back on years from now and take great pride in.”
Stinnett tossed a complete game in the circle that day and picked up the win in a game where Forrest trailed 4-2 before scoring three runs in the top of the seventh inning to take the lead.
Stinnett escaped a two-on, no out jam in the bottom of the seventh to seal the title clinching win, making her girlhood dream a reality.
“A lot people don’t know, but I actually won the state championship with a torn UCL and moving forward from that my goal was to be a DI athlete and play at the collegiate level,” Stinnett said. “People had doubts about it, coming off from a Tommy John surgery for a woman was unheard of, but I had a great support system and I never gave up and they never doubted me one bit, so moving forward I want to teach these young ladies, no matter what obstacles you face, no matter what adversities you go through, the sky is the limit and anything you can put your mind to, you can reach it.”
Stinnett did make a remarkable recovery from the surgery, leading Forrest to a 27-8 record and return trip to the state tournament where TCA turned the tables on Forrest, coming from behind with four unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to steal the title from the Lady Rockets.
Stinnett was in the circle that game also and the loss stung badly for the Forrest senior, who set a state tournament record that day with 130 innings pitched in her five straight Spring Fling appearances from 2006-2010. Stinnett’s 21 games pitched is also a state tournament record and she holds TSSAA career records for strikeouts (1,400) and wins (119).
Stinnett went on to a four-year softball career at MTSU where she graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in mathematics and eventually returned to Forrest in 2011 to teach mathematics and coach both varsity and middle school softball.
“College is a different beast and I guess until you have been there and you have experienced it, you really don’t know what it all entails, but I will say through that play you get see a lot of things and go to a lot of different places,” Stinnett said. “I had a bunch of different coaches, so from that I got to learn various coaching styles and I got to talk to a lot of different coaches. A lot of those college coaches I still get to contact today.”
“I think playing that DI ball gave me an insight from inside and out, so I was thinking from a player’s aspect, how is this going to impact future generations, so that was when I started my first travel team in 2010.”
Stinnett went on to earn a master’s degree at MTSU in Education and Curriculum Instruction in 2017.
Also returning this year is her dad Ricky Stinnett, who was an assistant coach with Cheatham until his departure last season and he has had a big hand in the success of the entire program.
“I would tell you all my success that I have ever accomplished is becuase of him and he is one of the greatest assets of this team,” Stinnett said. “A lot of times you don’t give him enough credit, he does the field, he does the hitting, he is always there, he is a great supporter of the program and the way he connects with the girls, so having him a part of this staff is one of the biggest assets you can have.”
“For me it’s a great accomplishment to be the head coach of Forrest softball, but I could not have done this without him and the same goes for my mom, she is the behind the scenes supporter, but without Ricky Stinnett I would not be here today and not be where I’m at.”
In 2015 with the Stinnett’s as assistant coaches, Forrest turned in another dominating year, going 35-5 without a single loss to a Class A school, including a four-game clean sweep at the Spring Fling to claim the program’s second crown.
In 2017 the Lady Rockets finished as runner-up to Meigs County after posting a 41-6 record and after the season ended, both Stinnett’s left their varsity coaching positions for middle school.
Last season Forrest moved up to Class 2A and missed the postseason due to a first round 6-5 loss to Creekwood in the first round of the Region 6-AA Tournament.
“Your goal is to always win state, it is always what you shoot for at Forrest softball,” Stinnett said. “When we were playing in Class A we knew what to expect, you had your scouting reports and you played in there for years, so moving to 2A and playing these higher teams is a challenge just because we don’t know these teams yet, but the expectations remain the same, we just have to get in there and get stronger, get mentally tougher, and just go to work.”