Tag Archives: high school baseball

Tears makes it official with Vols, set for national contest

By Maurice Patton

It wasn’t news that Kavares Tears signed a college baseball scholarship Wednesday with the University of Tennessee – the Columbia Academy standout announced his intentions to do so nearly three years ago – but there was news.

The left-handed Tears, who pitches and plays outfield and first base, has been selected to participate in the inaugural Minority Baseball Prospects All-American Game, which will take place Nov. 21 at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

“He’s that ‘five-tool’ guy,” said Alexander Wyche, a veteran high school baseball coach in Georgia and founder/CEO of Minority Baseball Prospects. “He shows power, with size, speed and arm strength. He can do it all.”

The MBP All-American Game will feature some of the nation’s top players from the recruiting classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023. The participants were selected based on evaluations of performances over the summer and scout recommendations.

“I didn’t know they were at any of my games,” Tears said. “This is the best summer I’ve had – ever, I think. I feel like I was more consistent. I was able to get more confident in my swing and hit for power.”

What he did is what veteran CA coach Richie Estep has always expected, and what the Tennessee coaching staff envisioned when it offered Tears a scholarship.

Kavares Tears (seated, center), flanked by parents Rodrick and Alicia, listens as Columbia Academy baseball coach Richie Estep comments on Tears signing a college baseball scholarship with the University of Tennessee during a Wednesday ceremony. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve told everybody, he’s just different,” Estep said regarding Tears, the first Southeastern Conference baseball signee in the program’s history and the first NCAA Division I signee since former standout Clint Holloway went to Tennessee Tech after beginning his collegiate career at Columbia State.

“The ball comes off his bat different. It just jumps off his bat. But he’s got so much to go with it. He’s got a great arm, he’s got great speed, he hits for average, he hits for power. No matter where he’s played, he’s shined. He plays first base for us, but I think at that level he’s going to be out there in the outfield and in the middle of the (batting) order, driving in runs. He’s a special talent.”

Tears is excited about taking that talent to Tennessee next fall and joining forces with fourth-year Volunteers coach Tony Vitello.

“They’ve made huge strides; people are seeing what he can do,” Tears said regarding the former Missouri assistant, who led UT to a 15-2 start last spring before COVID-19 forced an early end to the season. “I think that’s made a big impact with the recruits.”

With minority participation levels in Major League Baseball hovering below eight percent – MLB made sure to point out that this week’s selections of Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Devin Anderson and Seattle Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis as Rookies of the Year marked the first time two African-Americans were honored in the same year since the Mets’ Dwight Gooden and the Mariners’ Alvin Davis in 1984 – Tears is cognizant of his place in the sport.

“When you look at baseball, there aren’t too many African-Americans,” he said. “It’s mostly Caucasians, Hispanics. Bringing awareness that we can still make it, is humbling. It’s a good thing.

“When you go to a ballfield and you’re the only one there, (when) everybody’s looking at you like ‘shouldn’t you be on a basketball court?’, it motivates you to prove you belong.”

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.

Loretto’s Lamm headed for state coaches’ Hall of Fame

By Maurice Patton

Four longtime high school coaches, including Loretto’s Gary Lamm, and two-time national championship coach Tim Corbin comprise the 2020 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame class.

The five will be inducted at a Jan. 16 ceremony as part of the TBCA annual convention, which will take place at the Cool Springs Marriott in Franklin.

Joining Corbin – who led Vanderbilt to the 2014 and ’19 NCAA Division I titles – and Lamm will be Grace Christian’s Brad Myers, Friendship Christian’s John McNeal and current Knoxville Grace assistant Dwight Smith.

“It’s a great group of coaches that has had an impact on baseball in Tennessee and the lives of hundreds of kids,” said Pat Swallows, executive director of the TBCA, in announcing the class.

Over 41 seasons – the last 26 at Loretto, prior to his retirement earlier this year – Lamm posted a 552-425 record. He led the Mustangs to four state tournament appearances, including a Class A state championship in 2017 and a runner-up finish the following year, along with four sectional titles, four region championships and seven district titles.

Gary Lamm (left), who led Loretto to the 2017 Class A state championship and a state runner-up finish in 2018, will be inducted into the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame during a January ceremony. (Photos by Kyle Johnson)

“It was quite a shock when I got the news last week,” said Lamm, whose three sons all followed him into the family business; Luke currently coaches at Huntsville (Ala.) High School, with Paul winning a Class AA state title at Spring Hill in 2016 and Mark pitching at Vanderbilt and in the Atlanta Braves organization.

“My first thought was that there are a lot of people a lot more deserving of me. A lot of people go into (such an honor).”

Myers won a state championship at Battle Ground Academy prior to taking over the program at GCA. In 27 years, his teams claimed 12 regular-season championships and nine regional titles along with a pair of state runner-up finishes. Since moving to Grace, his teams won three district and two region championships while making a Final Four appearance.

McNeal, who also coaches the football team at Friendship, owns a 745-291 record on the diamond over 36 years, the last 30 with the Commanders. His teams have won three state titles in eight state tourney appearances, along with a runner-up finish. McNeal has made 19 sub-state/sectional appearances, winning 18 region championships and 26 district titles.

Smith, a baseball veteran of 55 years in some capacity, has most recently served as an assistant at Knoxville Grace after previous tenures as an assistant at Christian Academy of Knoxville and Powell and as head coach at Karns, where the field is named in his honor. Smith helped establish the Knoxville Stars summer league program, and also umpired summer ball for 15 years. He was previously inducted into the East Tennessee Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1998.

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.

TSSAA adds fourth class for basketball, baseball, softball

By Maurice Patton

New classes. Same concerns.

As the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association adapted a four-classification system for Division I basketball, baseball and softball for the 2021-22 and ’22-23 school years during Monday’s Board of Control meeting, the format suddenly didn’t seem to be the remedy to disparity that many had expected.

With the state’s high school programs divided evenly into four tiers, based on 20-day enrollment figures for the current school year, the smallest Class 4A school will – still – be half the size of the largest.

Parity within the classes, particularly the largest, was the issue among many coaches with the three-tiered system that was initially adapted for those sports in 1976.

Though the enrollment figures for the upcoming classification period are not yet available, numbers from the 2018 report would put the breakpoint between Class 3A and 4A at roughly 1,160 – approximately 1,600 students fewer than Collierville, which in 2018 had the state’s largest enrollment at 2,766.

“I think it’d still be a concern for those schools at the lower end of (Class 4A),” said Pat Swallows, executive director of the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association. “I don’t know if there’s anyway to fix it.”

Veteran Spring Hill baseball coach Paul Lamm was pleased that the TSSAA Board of Control expanded Division I basketball, baseball and softball to four classes for the next classification period and maintained the eight-team state tournament format in all three sports. (Photo by Ric Beu)

In addition to a four-class plan dividing Division I programs evenly, a ‘hybrid’ plan that would take a predetermined number of teams to 4A and a similar number to 1A, with the rest evenly divided for 2A and 3A, was considered by the Board but ultimately voted down.

“We knew that gap was still going to be there,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. “Right now, the bottom of (Class) 3A is 1,034. Going four classes, unless there’s a hybrid model that looks different, you’re not helping.

“When we started talking about hybrid, I just stopped talking, everybody (on the board) was shaking their heads so hard. We haven’t fixed the problem at the top, but the positive is we are doing four classes, we’re doing it for two years, maybe we can take another look then.”

The new format likely leaves both Spring Hill – barely (2018 enrollment 1,162) – and Columbia Central (1,358 in 2018) in the state’s largest class.

“Literally 15 or 20 schools is all it’s going to affect, depending on what the cutoff is,” Central boys basketball coach Nick Campbell said. “We’re going to be a ‘small’ 4A, from what I can tell.”

Along with the move to four classes, the Board opted to continue bringing four teams to the state tournament in those three sports – a “best of both worlds” scenario to both Swallows and Basketball Coaches Association of Tennessee executive director Bruce Slatten.

“I think everybody was a little – I don’t want to say shocked, but – shocked that it actually happened,” Spring Hill baseball coach Paul Lamm said. “Not the four classes, but I think every (coaches) association expected that if it did go four classes, it would definitely only be four teams to the state tournament.

“I think it was a really pleasant surprise that they decided to keep those eight teams, and rightfully so. They did what needed to be done.”

For Division I football, the decision was to continue to compete in six classes, while volleyball, soccer and track will remain in three classes divided evenly among on participating programs. Cross country will compete in A/AA and AAA, based on a school’s classification for track. Golf, tennis and wrestling will compete in two classes, with participating programs divided evenly. There will be one class for bowling.

Classification formats for Division II saw no changes. Football will continue in three classes, with all other sports maintaining the same number of classes for 2021-23 as currently.

Districts and regions for the 2021-23 classification period will be set by the state office and approved by the Board of Control later this fall.

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.

BOC to consider four classes for basketball, baseball, softball at Monday meeting

By Maurice Patton

Is a change gon’ come for Tennessee high school basketball, baseball and softball?

Coaches in those sports are hopeful that classification for the 2021-23 period will place Division I programs in one of four classes – a departure from the three-class system that has existed since 1976.

During a Monday meeting at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, the TSSAA Board of Control will take up the topic of classifying Division I and D-II schools for the following two school years, based on 20-day enrollment figures for the current year.

Coaches in the three sports have long campaigned for what is generally seen as a more equitable system than the one now in place, which at the Class AAA level sees schools such as Spring Hill — which reported an enrollment of 1,053 in 2016, the basis for the current classifications — potentially competing against schools more than twice its size.

“If you’re in that third class, there’s no cap to the (enrollment of the) schools you’re competing against,” Raider baseball coach Paul Lamm said. “That starts adding up.”

The disparity in enrollments is particularly stark for Spring Hill, one of three schools that plays in Region 4-4A for football – along with Tullahoma and Lawrence County – that plays in Class AAA basketball, baseball and softball.

Columbia Central (2016 reported enrollment: 1333) isn’t far removed from a similar fate. Boys basketball coach Nick Campbell sees how a four-class structure would be beneficial to the Lions as well.

Columbia Central’s Nick Campbell is among the Tennessee high school basketball coaches advocating for a change to a four-class system, which will be discussed Monday during the TSSAA Board of Control meeting in Murfreesboro. The classification change is also encouraged by a number of baseball and softball coaches across the state. (Photo by Ric Beu)

“We’d likely get away from Murfreesboro in regional play,” said Campbell, referring to District 8-AAA matching up with the Rutherford County-based District 7-AAA to form Region 4-AAA. Four of the eight teams from District 7-AAA reported enrollments of 2,000 or more in 2016, and all except Rockvale – which did not open until last fall – had enrollments of at least 1,700.

“We’ve only got three teams since 2010 that have won a region game,” Campbell added. “It would definitely level the playing field a little.”

All three coaches associations are in favor of four classes, though the change would have its potential drawbacks.

“We think people have finally seen the disparity. In Class AAA, you could have a school with 1,100 playing a school with 2,400,” said Pat Swallows, executive director of the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association.

The primary concern is that the state tournament format may change with four classes. As opposed to quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games taking place at a central site with three classes, the tourney participants may be limited to four teams.

“I think if that’s the case, some would rather stay at three (classes),” Swallows said. “Going to the state tournament is any athlete’s dream. Cutting the number of athletes that can go – when there’s plenty of fields … You can figure something out.”

Both John Conditt, executive director of the Tennessee High School Softball Coaches Association, and Basketball Coaches Association of Tennessee executive director Bruce Slatten echoed Swallows’ sentiments.

Bernard Childress, executive director of the TSSAA, said four classes were discussed during the last reclassification talks in 2016.

“The reason we didn’t the last time is, I think we (the state office) gave the Board too much to consider,” he said. “We presented 48 different plans. I think they got overwhelmed.

“What we need to preserve is regular-season travel. If the schools are willing to except (longer travel distances), … We can do four classes and still have districts.”

Childress clarified, however, that while the enrollment gaps will be lessened with four classes, they won’t go away.

“There’s always going to be disparities,” he said. “Whoever’s at the bottom – somebody’s going to be upset.”

Meanwhile, officials at Zion Christian Academy have submitted a request for Division II to adapt three classes — rather than two — for basketball.

The request sent to the TSSAA by Zion athletics director Derek Boyd places 32 schools in DII-A, with 20 in DII-AA (smallest, enrollment 266) and 12 in DII-AAA (smallest, enrollment 431). The breakdown closely resembles the classes currently set for Division II football.

“It’s not perfectly done,” Boyd said. “It’s just showing that, I feel like – transportation-wise, it’d be OK. In Division II-AAA, they’ve always traveled quite a bit anyway.

“I think giving the smaller schools a chance to compete would be a good thing.”

Zion Christian has also requested to continue playing a non-region football schedule for the 2021 and ’22 seasons.

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.

Columbia Central announces 2020 HOF induction class

By Maurice Patton

Former University of Tennessee basketball standout Fred Jenkins, ex-Major League Baseball all-star Dan Uggla and the 2010 TSSAA Class 5A state championship football team highlight the 2020 Columbia Central Athletic Hall of Fame induction class.

The class will be honored during an Oct. 22 ceremony.

In addition to former individual athletes and contributors, three Central state title squads will be inducted – the 2004 girls bowling team, the 2008 boys bowling team and the 2010 football team.

“It’s a very impressive class,” Central principal Roger White said regarding the third group of inductees since the Hall of Fame’s 2018 establishment. “The committee did a really good job of selecting this class.”

This year’s honorees are:

Linville

Jimmy Linville, Class of 1954: An all-American football selection his senior season, Linville was part of a 1953 team that finished 9-1 with five shutouts. He went on to play collegiately at Vanderbilt, and was a member of the 1955 team that defeated Auburn in the Gator Bowl for the Commodores’ first bowl victory.

Peebles

Regen Peebles, Class of 1961: Peebles was a three-sport participant for the Lions, playing basketball and baseball in addition to earning all-state honors on the gridiron. He later played at the University of Alabama.

Wantland

Hal Wantland, Class of 1962 (posthumously): Captain of both the basketball and football teams his senior year, Wantland played each for four seasons as well as baseball. He was a football all-American selection following the 1961 season, as Central finished 7-2-1. Wantland played collegiately at Tennessee and captained the 1965 team, before his selection in the 16th round of the 1966 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and a brief professional career with the Miami Dolphins.

Kelly

James Kelly, Class of 1969: “Batman” was a four-sport participant at Central, starring in football as a most valuable player selection his senior year and as an all-region basketball performer in addition to baseball and track. On the hardwood, Kelley helped the Lions to their first tournament berth in 32 years before going on to play football collegiately at Tennessee State. After completing his eligibility, he spent time professionally with the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins.

Jenkins

Fred Jenkins, Class of 1983: After earning all-America honors and having his jersey retired at the conclusion of his Central tenure, Jenkins joined the 1,000-point club at UT and was a sixth-round NBA draft selection of the Houston Rockets. He went on to play professionally overseas.

Alexander

Jerie Alexander, Class of 1998: Alexander earned all-state honors in both basketball and softball at Central, leading the softball team to a pair of district titles, before signing a softball scholarship with Southwestern Louisiana (since renamed Louisiana-Lafayette). As a Ragin’ Cajun, Alexander established career runs and at-bat records for the program and was the No. 2 all-time leader in hits, and was a two-time all-Sun Belt Conference first-team selection.

Uggla

Dan Uggla, Class of 1998: A four-year member of the Lion football and baseball teams, Uggla rushed for 1,053 yards his senior season before signing a baseball scholarship with the University of Memphis. He was named a Louisville Slugger collegiate All-American his sophomore year, and was selected in the 11th round of the 2001 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Taken in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft by the Florida Marlins, Uggla became the first Rule 5 draftee to earn all-star honors in his first year with his new team, in 2006. He was also an all-star in 2008 and ’12. After spending time with the Atlanta Braves – where he had a 33-game hitting streak in 2011 – and the San Francisco Giants, Uggla concluded his career with the Washington Nationals in 2015.

Jerry Sweeney, Contributor (posthumously): Sweeney made a tremendous behind-the-scenes impact on the Central football, baseball and band programs for more than 20 years, and was particularly instrumental in transporting band equipment for road performances.

Mid-Tennessee Bone & Joint Clinic/Jeff and Tina Adams, Contributors: Since MTBJ’s 1975 founding, Jeff was the long-serving team doctor for Central athletics, while Tina served as an officer with the Central football booster club. Both have been extremely generous with their time.

2004 Lady Lions bowling: Central completed a perfect season with a dominant run through the state tournament bracket – defeating Collierville 18-9, Hardin County 21-6 and Gatlinburg-Pittman 22-5 before downing Glencliff 18-9 in the finals to finish 18-0 on the year. Coached by Mike Ransom and Michael Ransom Jr., team members included Angelina Burns, Fran DeRanzo, Julie Halter, Ashley Haywood, Candace Howell, Christina Lewis, Lashonda Mayberry, Kristine Meath, Surkonya Moore, Ashley Patrick, Paige Provey and Holly Thompson.

2008 Lions bowling: Led by individual state titlist Michael Poirier, the Lions defeated Sevier County 22-5 in the state quarterfinals and neighboring rival Page 18-9 in the semis before clinching the first of five championships with a 19-8 win over Hendersonville in the finals and finishing 24-1. Coached by Mike Ransom, Gary Flatt and Randy Cook, team members included Des Braden, Aaron Davidson, Francisco Delarosa, Tay Duncan, Jake Flatt, Cody Hamilton, Travis Howell, Carey Morris, Ronald Riggs, Wes Tuesca and Poirier.

2010 Lions football: Rallying around the illness of teammate Dylan Rebeor, the Lions improved on their 2009 state runner-up status and claimed the program’s first TSSAA-sanctioned championship with a 28-7 win over Hendersonville – hours after Rebeor succumbed to cancer that same day. Central finished the year 13-2, with postseason victories over Lenoir City, Knoxville Catholic and rival Tullahoma before advancing to the finals with a hard-fought 7-0 win over visiting Knoxville West. Senior fullback/linebacker Tra’Darius Goff earned offensive and defensive MVP honors in the title game, scoring three touchdowns and notching a game-high 17 total tackles. Coached by Vance Belew, other team members included Dre Hall, Matthew Markham, Chris Martin, Eric Belew and Shaq Mason.

“We have a selection committee and a hall of fame board,” explained Hall of Fame committee chair Drew Parker. “The committee narrows down the finalists, and the board selects from the finalists. (But) we rely on nominations from the public. Anyone can nominate anyone. It’s really important that folks nominate.

“This is a class of incredible individuals, well representative of our school. Our hope is that we can continue to recognize folks that are every bit as impressive and deserving as the ones we are recognizing this year.”

The inaugural Hall of Fame class included Jim Cartwright, Everett Derryberry, Hardy Loyd, Lindsey Nelson, Fred Pickard, Malcolm “Mutt” Quillen, Joanne (Cole) Ramsey, Virginia Scott Parsons and longtime Columbia Daily Herald sports editor Marion Wilhoite.

Last year’s inductees were Vance Belew, Bernard Childress, Lee Clayborne, Robert Elliott, Lee Fowler, Richard Lemay, Billy Potts, Jack Van Hooser, Willie Wyatt and the 1952 Central football team.

Details regarding the Oct. 22 event will be provided at a later date.

Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: mopattonsports@gmail.com; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.