By Maurice Patton
Still yet to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University, Kennedy Mathis is already showing up on the radar of prospective high school baseball coaches.
Officials at Mt. Pleasant took note, officially appointing the 23-year-old former Forrest and Columbia State pitcher this week to succeed three-time veteran Eddie Bassham at the helm of the Tiger program.
“Teaching and coaching is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Mathis, who spent the last two years as an assistant at Independence while completing his requirements for his bachelor’s degree. “They reached out to some people they trust, and my name got to them. I was kinda blindsided when they reached out to me, but I’m excited to get going.”
Mt. Pleasant athletics director Eric Hughes said a wide net was cast in the process of finding Bassham’s replacement.
“It’s one of those things – you’re trying to identify somebody enthusiastic, somebody that’s going to be a hard worker, somebody that’s going to build a program,” athletics director Eric Hughes said. “We were very diligent in our search. You have your connections, you talk to this coach, this coach recommended this person; that’s kinda how it came about.
“We talked to several people, and we feel like we have found the right person for the job, and we’re extremely excited about it. If you look at his background, his playing experience, being at Independence the last two years with a premier program and their coaches … We think this guy is a rising star in the coaching ranks. He had some opportunities to go to some other Class A schools as a pitching coach, and he wanted to stay there and continue to learn and develop under (Mike) McLaury at Independence. Now was the right time for him.”
Over three coaching stints, spanning from the mid-1970s to this past spring, Bassham won more than 600 games and led Mt. Pleasant to three Class A state runner-up finishes – in 1989, 1998 and 2004. Of late, though, the program has struggled. The Tigers’ last winning campaign came in 2012, when the team advanced to the Class A sectional round and finished 15-14.
“The hiring of Coach Mathis signifies our commitment to building a sustainable, top-tier baseball program that will focus on development of strong fundamentals while keeping our eyes on a future state title,” principal Ryan Jackson said. “Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., is a baseball city and we could not be more excited about the future of one of our favorite sports and the development of our student-athletes.”
A 2014 Forrest graduate, Mathis participated in a successful Rockets program that produced veteran Major League pitcher Mike Minor as well as one-time Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Mr. Baseball Alex Brewer, both of whom played collegiately at Vanderbilt.
However, he’s aware that talent such as that – and that of 2020 Indy graduate Robert Hassell III, the eighth overall selection in last month’s MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres – is more the exception than the norm at the high school level.
“We had Mikie and we had Alex, but 90 percent of your guys aren’t that talented,” Mathis said. “But we worked hard, we competed, we had that mentality. Robert was a once-in-a-lifetime guy. But when you work hard and compete, you’re going to give yourself a great chance to win ballgames.
“Talking to people around Mt. Pleasant, and even folks not from there, this upcoming freshman class is going to be one of the better ones to come through in a long time.”
Age seems to be of little concern to either the AD or the coach.
“Your first job at any age is going to be trial and error,” Mathis said. “I think I can handle it. Watching how Coach McLaury manages the game, manages practice, manages parents, was a great experience for me. It gives me the confidence that I can take over as head coach and get it going.”
“We think he’s got a clear understanding of where the program is, the expectations and the direction we want to go in,” Hughes said. “We think he’s a guy that’s going to grind, build them into young men, lead them on and off the field. He’s going to be able to put in the work to get Tiger Baseball back to a level of excellence.”
Zion adds pair to coaching staff: The high school girls basketball and middle school football coaching positions at Zion Christian Academy have both been filled.
James Dickinson, a former assistant at both Columbia Academy and Columbia Central, will lead the Eagles’ middle school football program. Replacing Zion alumnus Daniel Pugh, who resigned earlier this summer to take a position at Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro, N.C., Dickinson will also serve as an assistant to Brad Lowery at the high school level.
Shaun Odom will become the third Lady Eagles coach in as many seasons, replacing Emory Ujano — who took over for Tommy Fox, the school’s previous athletics director, softball coach and boys basketball coach who also left for Wayne Christian this summer.
Odom has previously coached Murfreesboro-based nonscholastic girls basketball teams, notably Tennessee Team Pride.
The softball and boys basketball coaching positions left vacant by Fox’s departure remain so, although newly named AD Derek Boyd could eventually fill the latter role. Boyd previously spent 20 seasons as coach at Mt. Pleasant, his alma mater, before retiring at the end of the 2016-17 season, and since coached the Mt. Pleasant Middle School boys.
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mopatton_sports.