Justin Chaney’s trip to Bismarck, North Dakota, for the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s annual banquet included two missed flights.
Being awarded with one of the organization’s highest honors more than made up for the hassle of getting there.
Chaney, who just completed his 19th season as head softball coach at Newton County, was named National Coach of the Year in softball Wednesday evening by the NHSACA after finding out in December he was one of eight finalists for the award. The recognition comes on the heels of a 29-7 season in fast-pitch in which the Lady Cougars swept Tishomingo County in May to win the MHSAA Class 4A state championship.
When they called Chaney’s name for coach of the year at the banquet Wednesday night, he said he was initially in a state of shock.
“It’s hard to explain,” Chaney said. “People who know me know I try to be a humble guy, so the first thing I thought of was that this was an accumulation of everything we’ve done at Newton County.”
May’s fast-pitch title was the school’s first since 2015 and its 10th overall. Newton County also has 12 slow-pitch championships to its name. The success began under Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame coach Mack Fanning, and Chaney has been able to sustain the success for almost two decades. Chaney was told that the continued success was one of the reasons he won coach of the year, and there was no bigger honor for him to bring Newton County the recognition, he said.
“I’ve been at the same place for 19 years — it’s the only place I’ve known,” Chaney said. “It’s very special. From the time I got the award to now, I’ve had several former players, administrators, assistant coaches and people in my life around Newton County call or send me a text message congratulating me, and that means more to me than having the award.”
Many coaches are nomadic by nature, but Chaney is a Decatur native who has fallen in love with coaching in his hometown and said he has no desire to leave.
“I think it’s family,” Chaney said. “I didn’t want to be the one who jumps around. I just love it. It’s hard to put into words. My children and my wife being in a good school system, that’s also important.”
Chaney also said the fact it was other coaches recognizing him made the recognition especially rewarding.
“That does mean a lot,” Chaney said. “I often say, if you’re not a coach, sometimes you don’t understand. The biggest thing they talked about was continued success, and mine is because of all the young ladies that have come through wearing the orange and blue. Looking back and thinking about them and the assistants I’ve had, that means a lot.”
After joining him every step of the way, Chaney said he wanted to thank his wife, Tabitha, for her support. He also wanted to recognize former Newton County principal Rodney Tadlock, who hired Chaney 19 years ago.