If someone told Southeast Lauderdale slow-pitch softball coach Mack Fanning he would have won his 500th career game this season, he would have believed it. However, if he had heard the same news when he began coaching the sport 19 years ago, he might have thought it crazy.
“You never know how successful you are going to be when you start out,” Fanning said. “You don't know if you are going to continue winning. The next thing you look around, and you have won 100 games, and a I guess you look around again and we are looking at 500 this past season.”
Fanning coached football and baseball at Hickory High School, leading the school to two baseball championships in 1981 and 1983, as well as three conference championships in football.
It is his career in softball though, that has shaped Fanning's career the most. The head coach won three fast-pitch championships at Newton County in 2000, 2002 and 2003. However, Fanning is best known for his slow-pitch career, where he has compiled a 523-191 record, including two state-titles with Newton County in 1992 and 2001, as well as his most recent championship with Southeast Lauderdale this season.
“When I started in softball at Newton County, we just had excellent young ladies,” Fanning said. “You can't say enough about the hard work those young ladies have put in throughout the years. In the end it comes back to the work and the discipline those young ladies put into it.”
Fanning has served 33 years in the military, including his most recent deployment serving in Mission Iraqi Freedom from May 2004 to Feb. 2006. The discipline he has received throughout his time in the military, has translated onto the field.
In his first five years at Newton County, the Cougars did not have one absence during any practice. That devotion to hard work is something Fanning he has picked up both during his time in service, as well as from two important people.
“I'm going to give credit to two people,” Fanning said “I'm going to give credit to my dad, who taught me that dedication is what it is all about. The other individual who had a lot to do in my success is a retired coach in the area named Richard Harris. He told me, 'if you work hard enough, the rewards will be there. If you don't work hard, don't expect the rewards.”
After a brief stint at Clinton, Fanning took the head coaching job at Southeast Lauderdale, where he aimed to take a team on the brink of championship to the next level. Fanning was determined to turn the Tigers into winners – nothing was going to stop him.
“When I went down to Southeast Lauderdale for the first time, I saw a sign on the side of the road,” Fanning said. “It said your altitude is determined by your attitude. I think that is a very positive thing as far as our life goals are concerned.”
Opening the 2012 season with 498 wins, Fanning won his 500th game on Aug. 11 against Northeast Lauderdale. The coach did not let any of his players know of the milestone, but the achievement is one that means a great deal to Fanning.
“It was something between just me and myself,” Fanning said. “The school honored me with a celebration after, and it was a just a special accomplishment.”
Fanning and the Tigers would continue their success into the season, going 25-9 including a thrilling state-title series against South Pontotoc which gave Southeast its first ever slow-pitch state championship.
“That was our number one goal this season,” Fanning said. “We didn't set out to have a winning season, or win 25 games or a district title. We set out to win the state, and that is what we did.”
Throughout his 19 years coaching softball, Fanning has seen just about everything there is on the diamond. However, the coach said he still has plenty left in the tank, and isn't ready for retirement just yet – something Southeast opponents dread to hear.
“After Tony La Russa won with the Cardinals he hung it up,” Fanning said. “I guess I'm not that quite smart. I will coach another year and see where we are. We have a group of young ladies returning next year, and I think we are very capable of repeating. I look forward to the challenge.”