The return of spring sports this year has brought joy to many in the Chattanooga area, and at Red Bank High School, two members of the Phillips family are extra thankful to be back to doing what they love.
This will be a special spring on the diamond for a brother and sister who are leaders for the school's baseball and softball programs.
Bailee Phillips grew up playing softball on the Dixie Youth fields located behind the high school campus. She also got to watch her older brother Tyler excel on the baseball field as he helped Red Bank to the TSSAA Class AA state tournament in 2012 during his junior season.
"I still remember coming to watch games and playing behind the Red Bank baseball clubhouse when Tyler was playing. To see him now as the head coach is a crazy feeling," said Bailee, who is a standout senior pitcher and hitter for the Lady Lions. "To see him achieve one of his life goals definitely pushes me even more to be the best I can be. We both are very grateful to be back playing school ball again."
While the coronavirus pandemic shattered the plans for many last season, the hardships of the past make it easier for Tyler to remind his players of the opportunity they have. He considers every at-bat, pitch, game and even practice to be a blessing.
"We always thought getting to play baseball was promised until last year, when it was taken away," Coach Phillips said. "We played our first two games last season, had a day of practice, and then the season and career for four of our seniors was over. When we talk to our guys now and ask them why is today a great day, they say because we get to play baseball.
"The message we've been preaching to them is make sure you don't take anything for granted, have fun and live in the moment. It's important to treat every day as if it's the last day we will get to play."
Bailee prepared for her senior season by going to the batting cages up to five times a week last spring with her dad, who is also the groundskeeper for the high school softball field. She also plays summer ball for the East Cobb Bullets and has a private pitching coach, and the Cleveland State signee is off to a roaring start this season.
Like her brother did a decade ago, Bailee has amassed tremendous hitting stats in her time at Red Bank. She is a career .415 hitter with 29 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 65 RBIs in 179 at-bats. Through four games this spring, she has three homers.
One of five college signees on the roster for the Lady Lions, who have won the past two District 6-AA championships, she is also the team's ace with a career pitching record of 22-9 and a 3.00 ERA. A new riseball to go along with improved velocity has made her tough to hit, with Bailee striking out 35 batters in 21 innings this year for Mandi Munn's program.
"We have a very talented team this year that is motivated and ready to make the most of every opportunity," Bailee said. "I can even tell that Coach Munn has a new spark to her when we are around her. We are all excited and really happy to play again."
Bailee and Tyler are not only thankful for what they hope is a full season ahead, but also for their two biggest supporters who are also former Red Bank baseball and softball players.
"We have a lot to attribute to our parents. They both have a love for this place, which has fed into us," Tyler said of his dad Chris and mom Heather. "They always have had our back and push us to be our best. We are all thankful for Red Bank, and it's hard to picture what our life would be without it."