Tommy Petty, a Union native who’s coached baseball for the past 20 years, was recently named the new Union County High School Head Softball Coach for 2013-14. Sports Editor, Tiffany Grady-Hudgins, caught up with Petty who was away on vacation, in a phone interview on Wednesday.
TGH: Coach, I won’t keep you long, I know you’re trying to enjoy your vacation. Can you tell me when you found out that you were getting the job?
Petty: I actually found out last Friday that it was being sent to the board. Will (Hickson, Interim Athletic Director for UCHS) called and told me that. But it didn’t actually become official until after the board meeting on Monday night.
TGH: You should have a lot to work with in your first year, with UCHS returning all but three starters as well as bringing up some new talent.
Petty: Yeah, the varsity made a really good run in the playoffs and they have a lot of that team coming back. I think the JV only lost one game this year and we’ll have a lot of those girls moving up, including my daughter Kaitlyn.
TGH: You have two daughters in the sport, right? How much weight did that have on your decision to coach softball?
Petty: You know, Tiffany, growing up, my situation was a lot like yours, always on a ball field with my dad. You learn the game from your parents. Now, all of a sudden, I have kids of my own getting involved in sports and it brought me closer to the game. When my girls were young I could leave out and go to baseball practice and as soon as I walked back in the door they wanted me to go out in the yard and play ball with them. I’ve tried to instill in them the things that my dad did in me, and also teach them to have fun with it. I want to try and help my girls develop, along with the rest of the softball team, next year. I don’t think my dad ever missed any of my games and I’ve already missed so many of my girls’ games because of my job.
TGH: So, are you learning how to fast pitch a softball?
Petty: You know that old saying, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well, that’s me, I’ll never learn how to pitch. What I will do, is find somebody who can pitch and let that person work with them.
TGH: You played baseball at Union High School didn’t you? Did you also play in college?
Petty: I did play baseball at Union, for Clarence Sanders. I graduated in 1988 and then went on to Spartanburg Methodist and played baseball there and finished my degree up at USC Upstate, which was still USC Spartanburg at that time. I played baseball there as well.
TGH: Then, is that when you came back to coach at your alma mater?
Petty: My last year at USC Upstate, I was doing my student teaching and was a volunteer coach at Union in baseball and football. When I got my teaching job (eighth grade math at Sims Middle), they didn’t have any paid positions open, so I volunteered for baseball again for another year before I got my coaching job. So I’ve been getting paid to coach for 18 years and coaching for 20.
TGH: How hard will it be to leave the baseball program after all this time and how have the players responded?
Petty: I sent out a text message to all my players after the school board meeting on Monday night when I found out I’d got the job. A couple of them responded, you know, about how they’d miss me and things like that. I’m going to miss the guys because that’s all I’ve ever coached, but I guess, I don’t know…Its gonna be tough. I told them that in my 20 years of coaching, this is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make as a coach. Me and my wife went back and forth and she’s telling me, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.” It was an easier decision to make when I knew my daughters were going to play sports.
TGH: Do you know anything about who might replace you as the head baseball coach and what are your thoughts on that as well as the transition you’ll be making?
Petty: I do not. I know that they’re opening that job up. I actually asked about changing over last year but I told them that I didn’t want just anyone coming into this baseball program. It took time to build it up to what it is now and didn’t want to just give it to anybody. So, even though the position has only been open for a couple of days, they’ve know where my interest was for a year now.
Danny Gault (former Union County Head Softball Coach) put a lot into this softball program. Last year I asked Danny if he would be interested in me helping him and he was fine with that. We’d meet in the halls at Sims and talk about softball or baseball and we always compared our teams. Two years ago when we (the baseball team) went to play for State, I think they went undefeated in the region. Our teams were always nagging each other, competing to see who could have the best season, and it made both of us better. Going from baseball to softball, I don’t thing there will be a whole lot of difference, the love for the game is there regardless.
TGH: Ultimately, you feel this is the right place for you to be at the point…Is family and tradition the bottom line?
Petty: Absolutely. I tell my girls all the time, I wish my dad could be here to watch them play and I know that’s what he’d be doing if he was here. I’ve coached a lot of young men and I hope I’ve bettered their lives because I was a positive role model to them. That’s what I hope to continue with the softball team. For me, its about spending time with my girls. So, yes, it’s about family and it’s about tradition.
TGH: Thank you, Coach. I wish you all the best of luck and I’m going to let you get back to your vacation.
Petty: Thank you, Tiffany, I appreciate it.