The spring of 2019 was not supposed to go like this. That’s for sure.
When a bunch of people connected to the Covington High School baseball program raised their heads off their pillows the morning of Feb. 22, certain things were going to go a certain way.
Brad Warmath was going to lead the Covington baseball team through a season full of possibilities. His wife, Paige, was going to be there every step of the way as their son and the rest of the members of the team made some lifelong memories.
They might not win a state title, but the Warmath family was going to be together at a lot of games and this was going to be the culmination of the careers of some really good baseball players, and friends, playing for a man who had coached a lot of them since they were six years old.
The team included four seniors - Ty Warmath, Brock Lomax, Christian Delashmit and Austin Baskin - who had already signed Division I scholarships and several other key players back for a program that had been to the state tournament two years in a row.
Brad Warmath, after serving for several years as an assistant coach, was named the head coach of the team last fall. His son was looking forward to making a run at that elusive state title with his father leading the way. Paige, an English teacher at Covington whose room is right across the hall from Brad’s, would be there through it all.
“I was thinking of it as our last go at it together,” said Ty, “because I know they won’t be able to make all my games in college.”
Then one week changed everything.
On Feb. 22, exactly 16 days before the Chargers were going to open the 2019 season with a road game against Arlington, Brad was rushed to an emergency room with appendicitis. When the surgery was performed, doctors found a mass on his appendix and colon. Two holes in his colon were also discovered and he was in the hospital for a week.
He was at home for less than a day when he became septic and second surgery was performed on March 3.
As if that wasn’t enough, Paige became dizzy while she was at hospital comforting her husband.
“We were talking and she looked up at me and she goes, ‘I feel like I’m fixing to faint,’” Brad said.
A nurse was summoned to the room and everybody thought she was fine until 20 minutes later she felt faint again and complained of a headache.
An MRI was ordered and doctors found a mass on her brain.
Paige started chemotherapy and radiation last week after the mass was removed.
Neither Paige nor Brad have returned to their jobs at Covington High School. Brad, who lost 35 pounds and speaks in a raspy whisper, has not been able to coach a single game and needs assistance getting around.
His third surgery is scheduled in a month. Doctors have told him they expect he will make a full recovery, but it will be a long road.
As for Paige’s outlook?
“They’re optimistic that the plan they (doctors) have in place will work,” Brad said.
Meanwhile, the baseball season went on, with the playoffs set to begin later this week. The team has played well, going 24-7 and winning another district title. Brad and Paige have missed the majority of it, including a trip to Florida in late March. The couple was able to attend an emotional Senior Night ceremony last week, though.
It goes without saying that the Warmath family’s situation has had a profound impact on everybody involved with the program.
“At the beginning it was tough, to be honest,” said Baskin, a senior who has been coached by Brad at various levels since he was in first grade. “I know that he wishes he was out here because he prepped us for this pretty much since we were six on up to now. I know that kills him. Everybody on this team has come together in a way I don’t think I’ve seen another team come together.”
“It’s been hard,” said Lomax. “Us three (Ty and Baskin) have been playing together since we were five or six years old. We’ve known him (Brad) longer than most of the rest of the guys. It’s hard to see him go through what he’s going through. That’s one thing that pushes us. We know he wants to be out there just as bad as anyone.”
The last couple of weeks Brad has been able to watch some games from the dugout and he’s not shy about coaching up his players.
During one such game senior Christian Delashmit got a little too aggressive on the bases and ran into an out.
“Coach said, ‘Pssst, come here for a second,’” Delashmit said.
He asked Delashmit if one of the team’s better hitters was that plate, knowing the answer was yes.
“Well, maybe you should have let him hit the ball instead of scoring yourself,” Brad told Delashmit.
Brad, during an interview earlier this week, said, “It’s been tough, however I have realized that I have to take care of my health. That’s the only thing that’s gotten me through.”
Brad and Paige, who are both 44, also have a 14-year-old son named Holden who plays middle school baseball.
“They’ve (his sons) had to grow up,” Brad said. “To all of a sudden not have your mom and dad, they’ve handled it well.”
Robert Luttrell, a teacher whose room is down the hall from the Warmaths, said students have taken it hard.
“The place is not the same without him,” he said. “It’s like a fog here. We’re all worried, but there’s nothing you can do. That’s the hard part.”
“The community and faculty have really come together to try and help them any way we can. We’re hurting for them,” said CHS principal Mark McClain. “It’s hit us hard because we care for them and love them so much. Our kids have been through a lot, especially our baseball players. It’s taken a lot out of them and we’re trying to do everything we can for them.”
Several baseball teams in Tipton County and beyond have been very supportive, donating gate and concession money to the Warmath family. The #warmathstrong hashtag has been circulated a lot on social media.
“It has been absolutely tremendous,” Brad said. “We never could have imagined so much support.”
Chris Messer, who has made various coaching stops around West Tennessee through the years, was hired as an assistant coach during the offeseason and was named interim head coach when Brad became ill. He consults with Brad on a regular basis.
“When it first happened you could tell they (the players) took it hard. They look at Brad as a father figure,” Messer said. “We haven’t shied away from it. We’ve just stuck our chest out and taken it head on and were like, ‘This is what we’ve been dealt and this is what we’re going to deal with.’ If Coach Warmath was here that’s what he would want, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
Ty has had a very good senior season despite dealing with his parents being ill.
“My dad’s been coaching me since I was three or four years old and I can look over at him during the game any time,” Ty said. “It crosses my mind like crazy. I can’t lie to you. I think about it all the time, off the field, on the field, whatever it is. I just try to keep my mind focused on the game and the team and doing what’s best for them. Mom’s been there every game, too. Her not being here ... it’s not what I would have expected for my senior year. I thought they’d be here ... I try to keep my mind clear of it the best I can when I’m on the field, but when I’m off the field it never leaves it.”
The baseball team’s postseason fate will be be decided over the next three weeks. Brad was asked if he was going to make the trip to Murfreesboro, the site of the state tournament, if the Chargers make it there for a third straight season.
“Absolutely,” he said with a big smile. “I wouldn’t miss it.”