“Fate is kind. She brings to those who love the sweet fulfillment of their secret longing.”
Jiminy Crickett - “When You Wish Upon A Star”
I don’t know anyone who possesses a fertile enough imagination to have written the story of the 2018-19 athletic year at Covington High School. In order to believe it, you needed to be there to see it. I was blessed to have a front row seat, the best one in the house, at the 50-yard line, at center court and behind home plate to take it all in plus a voice in this paper to share it with the community.
CHS fields teams in 10 varsity sports. In this past academic year, six of those sports made appearances at the state level. Golf, soccer, cross country and football were there in back to back years, a first. Girls’ basketball was there as well and two more teams, boys’ basketball and softball, were on the verge before falling in regional and sub-state games.
As principal Mark McClain said, “It will be hard to duplicate a year like this one.”
Then came baseball and a story that simultaneously rips and warms the heart.
Before the season started, a seasoned team seeking a third straight appearance at the Spring Fling was gut-punched by real life. Hard, impersonal, unforgiving real life. It has been hard enough for adults to handle all that has happened with the Warmath family. No one could predict how a group of kids would react. How would they handle it?
What came next is the stuff of dreams.
McClain and athletic director Cetrice Bounds, who pulled the athletic strings just right all year, brought in interim head coach Chris Messer who, with a staff of Chris Godwin, Hayden Hogue, Heath Hoffman and Bradyn McClain, took the reins and, with a light hand, let the team go to work. Words fail to describe the task they accomplished.
Covington High School has a reputation for excellence academically and athletically that is known, admired and envied from Bristol to Memphis. A notable reputation is a dangerous thing to have for, in reality, it is nothing more than what others think of you. All too often, individuals, and sometimes teams, fall into the trap of “reading their press clippings” and resting on their laurels forgetting the task at hand. Living off a reputation is a recipe for disaster.
The antidote for thinking too highly of oneself is character - what you say and do when people are looking and, more importantly, when they are not. The 2019 Chargers proved their character at every turn. These young men, who had been with Coach Brad Warmath most of their baseball lives, had him suddenly taken away by serious illness followed close on by the equally serious illness of his wife, Paige. They could have folded and chucked it in. But to their everlasting credit, they took incredibly bitter lemons and made sweet, sweet lemonade.
What emerged was a band of brothers. Warriors who had each others backs all season. They embraced and held on tight to the coach’s senior son. When a star starting pitcher went down to a freak injury, the rest of the pitching rotation stepped up to be part and parcel of a 34-7 season, the fewest losses in a season for any CHS team. Another starter succumbed for a while to a wrist and then a knee injury but the bench was there to cover for him. It was that way all year. When he top of the lineup struggled at the plate, the middle fueled the offense and the bottom three picked up when the middle sagged. There was no quit. Runs scored with two outs were plentiful. A come-from-behind win was never a problem it seemed.
The postseason was the same. The Chargers took no prisoners. They won every game culminating in the schools’ third TSSAA State AA baseball championship.
I quoted Jiminy Crickett to begin this piece. Fate rewards those who love. Don’t believe it? Ask Kyle Ginn. Denied his senior football and baseball seasons by a major knee injury, his love for his teammates found him on the sideline of every football game and charting pitches or working in the press box all baseball season. He got just two at bats in 2019. He struck out on Senior Night but Friday afternoon with a man on he got another chance and made it count. He hit a bomb of a two-run homer, the telling blow in an 11-1 championship win that made Sports Center’s Top 10, Scott Van Pelt’s “The Best Thing I Saw Today, The Washington Post, the Twitterverse, everywhere. You just can’t write that stuff.
The 2019 Charger baseball season is proof positive of the power of love. I saw it on a rainy night after a Charger win at Chandler Field. Walking to my car, I was stopped by the sound of many pairs of cleats rushing across the asphalt. Then I saw why. The team was crowding the passenger window of an SUV. Inside was Coach Warmath. It was the first time that he and his team had seen one another since he had fallen ill. There were some happy tears but mostly laughter, high fives, handshakes and hugs. There was love. I believe that something happened in that moment. Fate stepped in and the rest is history.
Love of teammates for one another. Love for a coach. Love of a community. Love of a game. Love conquers all.
Hail to love! Hail to the Chargers, state champions, 2019!