For the second time in as many years, the Upson Lee Lady Knights softball team has a new coach. Last season under Stephen Hammock, the Lady Knights won more games in a season that they have won in over 10 years, finishing with a 12-15 record.
Coach Hammock and his family have moved on and relocated in Pensacola, Fla., leaving a vacancy at the helm of the Lady Knights softball program.
“Coach Hammock is going to be missed,” said UL Athletic Director Stephen Boyd. “He was a huge school supporter and a great teacher. He always pushed our kids on and off the field to do better. He is one of the many reasons UL was successful this year.”
“My time at Upson-Lee has been very productive, and I’m indebted to several people for having allowed me to be a part of it,” said Hammock. “I’ve worked alongside some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated coaches in the area. Upson-Lee Baseball won more games each year I was here (10, 15, 17), culminating in a trip to the Sweet 16, and Upson-Lee Softball won 12 games last year, more than any team in the last 10 years. So, the sports programs that I’ve been a part of are certainly headed in the right direction. By no means am I suggesting that it was because of me. Contrarily, it is because of the hard work of student-athletes who are filling a very important role in the school building, that of student-leaders.
“Students walking the halls of Upson-Lee High School need not look far for a positive example as it certainly can be found in the many student-athletes who work tirelessly after, and sometimes, before school at their respective sports and become well-rounded individuals in the process. I stopped short earlier of trying to thank everyone whose helped me during my time, but to the administrators, coaches, parents, players, and community members, thanks so much!”
It did not take long for UL to find his replacement in softball. In steps Tarah Crooks, who previously coached at Marion County and Harris County.
“I feel Tarah was the right person for the job and she has a lot of really good references,” said Boyd. “Coach Parks (ULHS football head coach Tommy Parks, who came to ULHS last year from Harris County) spoke very well for her and she is a highly qualified math teacher. Her attitude and motivation made it easy for me, and I knew she was the person for the job.”
Coach Crooks is from Midland, Georgia and graduated from Harris County High School in 2008. She played softball all four years while in high school and also played at Gordon State College.
She then returned to coach at Harris County as a community coach under former head coach Ed Oliver. Crooks coached at Harris County for five years, and graduated from Columbus State University with a degree in Secondary Mathematics in 2013. Last season, Crooks was the head coach at Marion County High School.
Crooks takes over a program that is on the rise at Upson Lee. The Lady Knights are loaded with young talent, starting and playing up to five freshmen last season.
“I knew Upson Lee had athletes,” says Crooks. (Marion County played UL in the Jordan Invitational last fall in Columbus and UL dominated the young team from Marion both offensively and defensively.) “I remember the girls pushing themselves and having the same competitive drive that I do! I also really liked how UL is very similar to Harris County as far as the community support and school system.”
Crooks held try outs for the 2015 varsity and junior varsity squad during the last week of school.
“Try outs went great,” said Crooks. “The weather hindered us a little, but we pushed through and had tryouts inside for two out of the three try out days. I was impressed with their focus and athletic ability. This is a young team with a huge sophomore class. The girls seem to have really good chemistry on and off the field, which is so exciting to see in such a young program.”
Crooks and the Lady Knights will have a busy summer ahead of them, playing in a summer league tournaments and hosting a summer youth softball camp.
“We have practice June 8-10 and will be playing Ola High School and Woodland at a tournament at Ola High School on June 9,” said Crooks. “We will also be hosting a Summer Youth Softball Camp June 15-17 from 9-11 a.m. for $30. Then we will go to the Paw Print Classic hosted by Mary Persons in July.
There will also be a new coaching staff this season, but there will also familiar faces to the UL softball program.
“We will have three coaches this season,” said Crooks. “Myself, along with Michael Kirby and Rina Wilson will make up the UL coaching staff this season. Michael has been an assistant coach with the team. Rina played at UL during her high school career and is now back in Thomaston teaching and coaching. She has pitching experience and with my catching experience; the main aspect of the game will be covered!”
Last season the Lady Knights struggled at time with some of the teams from Region 2. According to Crooks, she expects Upson Lee to be competitive in region play.
“I have heard that this region is a tough one,” said Crooks. “I have been doing some digging and looking at our opponents records; its not going to be easy, but this group of girls seems to have the determination to give them a run for their money. Several of the girls have told me that they plan to go further than they did last year!”
Crooks and the Lady Knights will be in action in August when the regular season begins.
Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.