The success of the Union County High School Softball program over the last three years has been fantastic to follow.
The Lady Jackets have seemed nearly untouchable over the last few years, and have become one of the premiere programs in the state of South Carolina, and the nation. The Lady Jackets varsity team has won two consecutive 3A State Titles and look to win a third. While en route to playing for their third state title in as many years they have taken on any and all comers and beaten the best teams this state has to offer including, last year’s 4A Champion Clover and the always powerhouse Byrnes Rebels, who are also playing for a state title this weekend. The Lady Jackets are the number one ranked softball team in the state and have also seen themselves ranked as high as number eleven in the country by MaxPreps.
Coach Tommy Petty, and the rest of the Jacket coaching staff, has done a terrific job of taking this program to another level. However, the success of this program does not stop with the varsity program. The JV team also had a very rewarding season this year, ending the season with a 21-1-1 record, with a large number of those twenty-one wins coming by double digits.
The domination of Union County Softball has been very fun to watch over the last several years, and it seems like they just continue to reload, with more and more talent moving up through the system. The success of these programs has taken a lot of people by surprise around Union, but more specifically out of town people have been surprised by the “recent” onslaught of talent on the softball diamond for the Jackets. But, for those of us who have followed softball in Union for sometime now this comes at no surprise. The talent has been mounting for sometime now, and now Union County sits at the pinnacle of softball success.
Union High won a 4A state title in 1980 in the program’s second year of existence under Coach Sharon Smith, and the Lady Jacket program has seen its share of good seasons over the years. Much of that success can be attributed to the late Danny Gault, who served as the Head Coach of the Jacket program for many years. Coach Gault had many good teams that made deep playoff runs, but the big one was always just out of reach. However, this program’s success runs much deeper than that. For a team to be this talent rich from top to bottom, the game of softball has been taught and instilled in these girls from a very early age by very capable teachers.
In 1983, Mike “Broke Arm” Cohen took a team from Union and played in the very first South Carolina Dixie Girls State Tournament. Ever since that time the Dixie program in Union County has continued to grow and become a great program. Most of the girls on the current UCHS team came through the Dixie Program in Union County. Some of them, including 2015 SCCAWS 3A player of the year Payton Martin, started playing Dixie when she was only five years old.
This current roster of girls, along with some that have already graduated, saw a lot of success at the Dixie level. They won several district tournaments at the different age levels over the years, and often made deep runs in the SC State Dixie Tournaments, where almost yearly it seemed that three of the last teams remaining were Union, Hartsville, and Hanahan. Those three teams also have made up three of the final four teams left in the state playoffs the last two seasons.
The success of Dixie Softball and in turn the success of Union County High School softball can be attributed to the willingness of very capable and knowledgeable volunteers who have coached teams, sat on the board, raised money, worked concession stands, umpired, and all else in between for these girls. These people never did it for the money, but instead were willing to lend a helping hand to teach these young girls about a game they loved. Over the years Union has been blessed with some good people in our Dixie Girls program who have taught these girls not only to play the game of softball well, but also about sportsmanship. I have never been disappointed in the way girls from Union County have acted on the softball field.
So many names come to mind of people that helped build and grow the Dixie program over the years. First of all, there is Mike Cohen, who I would consider to be the father of Dixie Softball in Union County. Broke Arm was recently elected to the Dixie Softball Hall of Fame for all the hard work, and years of service he put in to make Dixie Softball a possibility in Union. Others like Mark Moss, Shane Wade, Joe Wade, Jay Allen, Jason Peahuff, Bennie Kershaw, Melissa Eaves, Jerry Foster, Lonnie Lee, and so many others before and since, have been instrumental in the growth and success of the Dixie Program in Union.
Youth Sports is instrumental in building successful high school sports programs. The Byrnes Rebels football team has been one of the most successful football programs over the last two decades. One of the reasons they have been so successful over this span of time is because they start early teaching these kids how to play the game and play it correctly. These kids begin at an early age running the same plays the high school team runs.
Recently the Union Stinger Program has moved to doing the same thing, now using the slogan “The Road to State Begins Here.” If we teach the younger generation how to play these games and how to act on the field, as children, this knowledge will remain with them as they continue in their athletic careers. That is why it is important that we continue to support youth athletic programs in Union County. It not only makes our children better athletes but better citizens.
This team is loaded with a lot of talent. Many of them this year are seniors, which means they will be moving on. This group of seniors has accomplished so much, they will be missed, and we certainly wish them well in all their future endeavors. But as I look upon the horizon the future of Union County softball continues to look bright.
Hats off to Coach Petty and his assistants for what they have done to turn UCHS softball into a dynasty. As the win totals and accomplishments continue to grow for these teams lets remember also all those people who helped them get here. Those people who instilled the love of the game and the values of good sportsmanship in them. From parents to coaches to fans we all have a hand in a molding the future.
Congratulations girls on another fantastic season and WE all look forward to what the future has in store. Go Jackets!
Tyler Shugart is WBCU Saturday morning announcer, Sports Hour host, football color commentator, and basketball/baseball play-by-play.