By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
As the Southeast Lauderdale Tigers celebrated following the third out of their Game three win over South Pontotoc to clinch the 3A Slow-pitch State Title, head coach Mack Fanning stood quietly in the background. The head coach watched as his girls crowded around the circle with tears of joy in their eyes and celebrated the first slow-pitch state title in school history.
“I wanted the girls to enjoy their moment,” Fanning said. “I’ve just leared over the years to sit back and let them enjoy the victory.”
Fanning has had more than his share of success throughout his career. The prolific head coach has now won three state titles, two in his time with Newton County and his most recent yesterday, when he led Southeast past South Pontotoc.
While time has passed since his first championship in 1992, winning is still just as sweet.
“It's great to see these girls have success,” Fanning said. “That's what it is all about. They earned it with their hard work, and it is a great thing to see.”
In his 19 years of coaching, Fanning has been through just about everything the sport can offer. The head coach said he has enjoyed helping mold young athletes and especially watching teams grow into their potential during the season. Although with age, the process is getting a little more challanging each year for the head coach.
“I don't know if they listen to me a whole lot anymore,” Fanning said jokingly. “When you have such a difference in age, you say something and it doesn't always register with them.”
One thing that has become to be a litle easier on the head coach is dealing with the stress of the moment. Fanning said he has learned to deal with keeping a level head during stressful situations.
His cool demeanor went a long way on Saturday, helping the Tigers stay calm with their backs against the wall.
“We might have had a little nerves after the first inning of Game one when we went one, two, three on a bout five pitches,” Fanning said. “But after that, we were able to get back, and I don’t think there was but two other innings on the whole day were we went one, two three.”
Fanning and the Tigers will lose a few key seniors next season, including the team’s leading player Denisha Knight. Despite the departures, Fanning still beleives his team can make a third-straight trip to Jackson next season.
“I think the team still possesses the ability to win next year,” Fanning said. “There are about five players coming back who are capable of hitting the ball extremely hard for us. When this year started, I would say we only had four that I felt could hit the ball really hard.”
Fanning will coach in the State All-Star game on Saturday, as he takes the field named after him, Mack Fanning Stadium on the campus of Newton County High School.
Although Fanning has coached an all-star game before at the venue, the trip back to his old stomping grounds is always a special experience.
“When I was over at Newton County High School, softball was one of the only sports to be played on campus,” Fanning said. “For a few years they had to play football over at East Central Community College. Coming back and playing on that field is always nice.”
The 66-year-old Fanning has had his share of memories during his time as head coach of both Newton County and Southeast Lauderdale. Though his career could be coming to a close in the future, Fanning is not ready to hang up the cleats just yet.
“We haven’t reached that final step just yet,” Fanning said. “After yesterday, I feel like I could coach five more years.”