Chattanooga State Athletic Hall of Fame inductees adapted, excelled

Chattanooga State Athletic Hall of Fame inductees adapted, excelled

June 22nd, 2013 by Ron Bush in Sportlocal

One of the most important factors in success is adaptability, and the fourth Chattanooga State Athletic Hall of Fame "celebration" Friday night at the Walden Club was a tribute to that.

As guest speaker Wade Houston noted before Dr. Kim O'Kelley-Wingate, Alicia Ransom Woolwine and Drew Bowlin were honored as new inductees, "A hall of fame doesn't always go to the people who are the most talented."

He emphasized that "they have a chance to go because of talent," but they need other qualities such as effort and character as well.

The three inductees clearly had exceptional talent, but they made spectacular transitions through a willingness to learn and to work hard to make adjustments.

O'Kelley-Wingate went from slowpitch softball success as a middle infielder at Ringgold High School to NJCAA All-America designation in 1995 as a fastpitch catcher at Chattanooga State -- and then to an NCAA Division II national championship team at Kennesaw State. She played the summers before and after her 12th-grade year with the Frost Falcons fastpitch organization, with 10-time high school state champion Clifford Kirk as her coach, and then got a chance from Chattanooga State's first softball coach, Frank Reed.

"I was an infielder and he made me a catcher," she related, adding that the position change ultimately allowed her to get the Kennesaw opportunity.

"Catching helped me catch on to the sport," she added, referencing the nuances gained from being involved in every pitch on defense as well helping with the hitting adjustment.

Later an assistant coach at the high school level as well as back at Chatt State, she has a Ph.D. and teaches at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. And she's married to Joe Wingate, who played baseball when she was at the community college and now assists Greg Dennis with the baseball Tigers.

Woolwine is a cousin of O'Kelley-Wingate and also now works in education and has been a coach. She too was a Chatt State All-American -- but in basketball, where she played for Eddie Bryant and then Melvin Williams and helped the Lady Tigers reach the basketball national tournament for the first time.

She made a series of 3-pointers, including one at the final horn, to put them in the NJCAA final four in 2001. She was a TSSAA Miss Basketball finalist and the all-time leading scorer and rebounder for Notre Dame High School but kept trying hard to be better, Williams said Friday.

"She had a great work ethic," he said. "She was always there 30 minutes before time. I worked with her the whole summer before I took over in her sophomore year."

Beyond that, he said, "she is a great person and a great student in addition to being a great player and leader."

According to Alicia, camaraderie and teamwork carried that team as much as talent, but they also had to adjust to the new coach and his style and they diid it willingly.

Then there was Bowlin, who could not attend Friday because his Class AA Richmond Flying Squirrels were playing an Eastern League game at Reading, Pa. He was represented by his parents, however, and his Jefferson County (Tenn.) High School coach attended, and Bowlin himself talked to athletic director Kim Smith and school president Dr. Jim Catanzaro by phone before the meal -- and texted his mother during the ceremony.

"This is as big an honor to Drew as getting the call to play professional baseball," Bowlin's mother said.

He was "a catcher his whole life," she noted, but earned enough interest as a hard thrower to go to Tennessee as a pitcher. But after redshirting one year with the Volunteers, he decided to transfer and picked the Tigers after much family prayer, and he blossomed enough in one school year with Dennis and then-pitching coach Robert Long to be drafted and signed by the Giants in June 2007.

"Robert did a great job with him, starting the polishing process," Dennis said, "but Drew was God-givenly blessed to a high extent, and about halfway through the spring season he became awesome."

Dennis cited one region tournament game against Jackson State in which Bowling was "electric, and everything was on. They were a good-hitting team but had no answer for him."

Also Friday, Chattanooga State presented a Distinguished Service Award for the first time -- and then another. Those honors went to 20-year Lookouts owner Frank Burke and longtime "community partner" Chattanooga Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.