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Saturday Morning Quarterback

Andy Reed • Apr 17, 2017 at 3:13 PM

If you’ve been to Lebanon High’s softball field the past week or so, you’ve noticed a new addition above the left-center field wall - a board listing the Lady Devil softball players who’ve gone on to play in college.

The board is similar to one which has adorned left field at Friendship Christian the last five years.

The common denominator - both were installed by coach Jody Atwood.

Interesting thing about Lebanon’s board: There are no players listed before 2003. Jody told me earlier this week he didn’t know of any. If there are, he wants to know so he can get their name(s) up there.

To use Tennessee football coach Butch Jones’ parlance: the 2017 Lady Devils are Team 36 as Lebanon’s first team was fielded in the spring of 1982. I know this because I was an LHS senior.

Legendary basketball coach Campbell Brandon had coached girls’ cross country and track in previous years in part to use as an off-season conditioning program for his basketball players.

I don’t know why track and cross country were discontinued (they were revived about a decade later), but Brandon used the softball team much the same we he did track. The early rosters were stacked with basketball players. He told me the other night Deanna Maynard (Teeter) played first base, Sherry Sullins (Lester) was the shortstop and Kim McCrary (Bryan) was the pitcher. Interestingly, Sherry Sullins’ daughter, Aaryn Grace Lester, is a freshman right-fielder on Team 36.

Something else about that team, it (Brandon said it may have been the next year, but an umpire once told me it was the first team) won the district to tournament and 3 1/2 decades later remains the only LHS district softball champion.

Lebanon’s early pitchers didn’t really throw fast as there wasn’t a fastpitch league in town. That didn’t happen until maybe 20 years ago when the Lebanon Girls Softball Association made the conversion to fastpitch. Mt. Juliet became a state power under coach Mike Gwaltney in the 1980s because girls growing up in West Wilson had a fastpitch league to play and train in. When I was with this newspaper in the mid-‘80s, Lebanon, which played Mt. Juliet in all other sports, didn’t face the Lady Bears in softball.

I ran into Brandon the other night and asked him if he had any softball players (his last season with Lebanon was 1994, two years after he “retired” from basketball) play in college, he thought he had at least one. That will have to be confirmed.

After Brandon totally retired from LHS, Carolyn Booth took over the Devilettes. She had played basketball for Brandon on his Lascassas teams in the early 1960s and had a daughter who was a dominant pitcher for Ezell-Harding’s budding dynasty in the late ‘80s.

Eventually, Booth gained an assistant coach, Phil Burkhart, who followed John Wild (the current Wilson Central basketball coach who coached Friendship to its first state tournament in the early ‘90s) and preceded Randy Sampson as part of a long line of FCS coaches who’ve built the Lady Commander brand of softball. I also remember Danette Henderson, who had hit the first home run out of Mt. Juliet’s park during the Lady Bears’ run to the ’86 state championship, was on the staff for a year or so.

Steve Williams (I had to ask somebody his name since I had forgotten) coached the team for a year while he served as offensive coordinator on Ron Marshall’s football staff. When he left (he’s now the head coach at John Overton), Brad Rowlett, who had been an assistant under Junior Hawkins at Cumberland, took over and in his decade or so made the Lady Devils, if not a state contender, at least a consistent winner within the district as they finished second two or three times to reach the region.

Rowlett returned to his Mt. Juliet roots and while he has been a steady face in the Lady Bears’ third-base coaching box, Lebanon is on its fourth head coach since his departure. Those four have had something Rowlett and his predecessors did not - an on-campus facility to call their own. Before LHS moved to its current campus, the team played in city-owned Baird Park and, during at least part of the Brandon years, at the field on Hobbs Avenue where Cumberland played its first game, in ’86. Some of Rowlett’s early teams played some home games at Cumberland before the city recreation department dressed up one of the Baird Park fields to make it LHS’ “permanent” home, at least until the school moved.

Anyhoo, Atwood is planning an alumni night for April 28 when Wilson Central comes in. All former LHS softball players are invited to come and be recognized at a ceremony beginning at 5 p.m. before the 5:30 game. And Jody didn’t specifically ask for this, but if you’re a former LHS player who went on to play collegiately, let him know so your name can be put on the board. The Friendship board is pretty full, but there’s plenty of room at Lebanon.

Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central alumni game

If Mt. Juliet and Wilson Central were to install alumni board listing their collegiate alumni, one sign wouldn’t be enough, especially at MJ, which has been sending players to the next level for more than 30 years.

Central assistant coach Carmen Gulley Gregson, who played for Mt. Juliet and coach Maj. Dan Sullenger in the early 2000s, and fellow assistant Sara Williams (Central catcher who went on to play at Western Kentucky) has been organizing an alumni game between the Lady Bears and Lady Wildcats prior to the schools’ April 22 matchup at WCHS. The varsity (including Central Team 16; not sure how many years MJ has played) will play at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity. In addition to Gregson having MJ ties, so do some of the WCHS parents. Kristyn Clark is currently on Rowlett’s staff but played for the Lady Wildcats.

Any former Lady Bear or Wildcat who hasn’t been contacted by Gregson on Facebook but are interested in playing, or at least attending, should let her know. She is a WCHS faculty member.

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