Blount Press Row

MACaroni & Steve

2021 Mustangs proof Hall of Fame coaches still got it

Heritage Middle School baseball coaches Steve Stout, left, and Earl McMahan shunned retirement to return to coaching this past season. The inseparable, lifelong friends will be inducted into the Heritage High School Hall of Fame in ceremonies this fall. Photo by Cindy Nowlan

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

The first no-hit first inning in Heritage Middle School history?

Steve Stout would know.

It might even be true.

Earl McMahan can only chuckle at his coaching sidekick’s stunning pronouncement. Derrick Hodge, the Mustangs right-hander who’d just tossed the strong first inning in an early-season game with Alcoa, got a kick out of it, too.

“They make the game fun,” shortstop Gavin French said.

“And not just about winning,” added second baseman Thomas Bowers.

Along with the occasional Stout zinger, the Mustangs fell into a wealth of coaching knowledge when McMahan and his one-time protege elected to come out of retirement and coach the squad for the 2021 season. Both came with 30 years of experience coaching youth sports from the elementary to the high school level.

Both are soon to be Heritage High School Hall of Famers, the pair recently named to the 2021 class to be inducted this fall.

Dugout humor withstanding, winning baseball is serious business for the duo. Always has been.

McMahan instructs a Mustang at a Heritage Middle practice.

After stops at Lanier High and William Blount early in his career, where he held positions ranging from girls and boys basketball coach, softball coach and assistant football and baseball coach, McMahan landed the job as baseball coach at Heritage High in the late 1980s. At every stop, the former Maryville College football All-American had made hiring the best available assistants his top priority.

By the time he landed at Heritage, that meant one guy.

“I had heard about a young coach who was great at working with young kids,” McMahan said. “I had an opening for a coach. I met Steve at Wynns Sporting Goods and offered him an assistant coaching job on the spot.

“Thirty-plus years later … ”

The only question as the season began this spring, a question they surely asked themselves, was could they still do it?

The Mustangs had a some gems in French, Bowers, Hodge and catcher Jack Cole. Third baseman Gavin Hughes was likely to become a key player. And there was this Ayden Talbott kid who could really swing the bat.

Stout exchanges a fist bump with a Mustang during practice.

After decades at their craft, could Stout and McMahan mold one more team that could play with the best of them?

Here’s Stout to Hodge after the latter pitched his way out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam with back-to-back strikeouts later in the Alcoa game: “That a way bulldog right there, Two-two!”

By the county middle school tournament in May, the Mustangs had all learned to bulldog, surprising many with a run to the winner’s bracket finals with their rookie coaches. The Tornadoes, a team Heritage had bested twice during the regular season, including the Hodge win, ended the run in the loser’s bracket finals two days later, but no matter.

A top-3 finish with a new team after years away from the game?

That’s right up there with the first no-hit first inning in Heritage Middle School history.

Maybe better.

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