South Pittsburg coaches Vic Grider and Danny Wilson have been spotted at practices lately, and no one was wearing shoulder pads, pushing around a sled or doing Oklahoma drills.
It doesn't mean anyone can expect the Pirates to be lagging this coming football season. It just means their head coach and defensive coordinator are concentrating on another sport in springtime.
Grider is officially the head coach of the girls' softball program for a second time, although he claims it's a joint venture with Wilson. Grider said he's been overseeing the offensive side of things, Wilson has been working with the pitchers, and there's enough defensive responsibility to go around for both of them.
"I would've never gotten back into it if he hadn't agreed to do it with me," said Grider, who in 1993 coached the Lady Pirates to their only state-tournament appearance.
Wilson has a baseball background and in 1996 led South Pittsburg to its only state title in that diamond sport.
"My only softball experience is when Vic asked me to coach first base when they made it to the state tournament after we had gotten beat," Wilson said of his '93 team.
With Grider feeling rusty after having been out of the game so long and Wilson eager to learn more about softball, the two sought advice from some area softball coaches even before workouts began.
"It's just like football in that you can learn a lot from others," Grider said. "You'd be foolish not to go to some coaches who have been successful and ask how they do things. This first month or so has been a learning experience for me since it's been so long since I was in it. I'm kind of feeling my way into it."
Wilson was head football coach and Grider was the defensive coordinator on the Pirates' 1994 state-championship team. Wilson also has a background coaching girls' basketball, which he currently does at South Pittsburg.
Grider said he thinks the two work well together because of their philosophical similarities.
"If Vic and I were coaching a horseshoes team, we'd have them start with the basic fundamentals and we're going to do it every day," Wilson said. "I don't care what the sport is. In football you have to block and tackle every day. In basketball you have to handle the ball every day and know where to be defensively. In baseball and softball you have to field the ball and know where to go with it and do it every day. Knowing the strike zone is a big thing at the plate. It seems simple, but it's one of those things you have to work on."
The girls have already figured out the two are also demanding.
"I think we'll get a lot better as the season goes on," said senior Carmen Wooden, whose 3-2 pitching record is the same as the team's record. "We're starting out with something new and I think we're going to build on it. We just need to progress and get better and be ready when the district tournament comes."
Junior first baseman Ayana Garth is aware of what Grider did in 1993. A team picture hangs in the gym.
"I feel like we have the coaches in place that can take us to that level," Garth said.
Grider said he wasn't eager to give up coaching the softball team when he did in the 1990s, but football is his first love and his career in that sport was just beginning to take off. Since 1999 he has guided the Pirates' football team to six state finals -- four ending with championships.
But now that his daughter, Victoria, a seventh-grader, is interested in playing softball, his focus has shifted -- at least for part of the year. She's grown up being involved with softball, but he's never gotten the chance to coach her.
Wilson's daughter, Kelsea, hasn't played softball since third grade but is back playing this year. Grider persuaded her.
South Pittsburg's softball field recently has had a much-needed face-lift. The youth softball program is now thriving throughout Marion County. In the not-too-distant future, could these coaches end up with a conflict and have to miss spring football?
"If there's a problem at the end," Grider said, "we'll figure it out."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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