When Steve Chattin was planning how he wanted to build the fledgling Heritage High softball program, he followed the blueprint used by one of the nation's top prep football teams. For years, Valdosta football coaches made sure their feeder programs ran the same offensive and defensive schemes used by the varsity so that when the younger kids reached high school they already had a grasp on the game plan.
It's hard not to notice the lasting success such a program plan has had in southern Georgia, so when Heritage began its softball program five years ago, Chattin implemented a similar plan. Taking advantage of the GHSA rule that allows high school coaches to head summer programs, Chattin put together a travel softball team made up entirely of Heritage varsity players.
He later expanded that program to include middle school (14-under) and even elementary school (12-under) teams with girls zoned to go to Heritage's feeder schools. Girls outside the Heritage zone are not allowed to play on the Generals' summer teams to avoid accusations of recruiting.
The payoff has been immediate and impressive, as Heritage has reached the GHSA state tournament four straight years, reaching the final four twice. The Generals also have had 12 players earn first- or second-team all-state honors, and nine have signed or are committed to college programs.
Last fall, Heritage finished 27-8 before losing in the state tournament to the eventual state runner-up. Chattin has a good mix of experience returning and a large group of freshmen who have known success already with the summer program.
The Generals' 16-under team is undefeated and has reached the round of eight in this week's National Softball Association A Division Eastern World Series in Chattanooga.
"With the exception of two girls, every kid that's on the varsity also plays on our summer team," Chattin said. "The biggest help is with the earlier age kids. They're learning the same signals and system and how to deal with us coaches.
"It's like the old days when Valdosta's football program had the little league players running the same plays so by the time they got to the varsity they knew everything to expect. It's an advantage to know the kids so well already when the season starts. We have six freshmen coming in, and we already know what they can do."
Once this weekend is over, bringing an end to the summer schedule of six travel "showcase" tournaments, the Generals players will take off the first three days of next week before conditioning and beginning practice next Thursday for the high school's season.
"The biggest thing I like about being able to have a summer program like this is that I know our kids are getting consistent quality coaching," Chattin said. "That's not always the case with some summer teams, but I think we've already proven that it's paying off. We're getting kids noticed in these summer showcase tournaments and they're helping us build a very strong program for our high school, so it's a positive for all sides."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.