Some didn’t have to drive far to come back home, while some traveled literally thousands of miles.
But for the chance to see old friends and for the chance to get to play softball for Gordon Lee High School one more time, they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Nearly 20 former Lady Trojans, spanning nearly two decades of Gordon Lee fastpitch softball, took the field against each other on Saturday for the first of what head coach Dana Mull hopes will be numerous Gordon Lee Alumni Softball Games.
From players such as Ashlan Clarkson, who played on Mull’s first Gordon Lee team in 2003, to Mary Kate Pritchett and Bailey Miller, who played on the most recent team in 2016, players from all seven of the Lady Trojans’ state championship teams and all 14 of the region championship teams were represented.
Some are now married and brought their kids with them to the game. Others just finished up college careers and have entered the work force, while others are still playing in college or set to begin playing at the next level this upcoming season.
A lot of the alumni parents also were on hand to watch their daughters and catch up with old friends.
Many of the former players who attended still live in the Tri-State area, but some put in the miles to be there for the historic contest. Former Class A Pitcher of the Year, Sam (Floyd) Tracy came up from Savannah. Kelsie Bickett, a catcher on the 2010 undefeated team, currently works and lives in Lexington, Kentucky, while Holli (Brooks) Guthrie was most recently living in New Mexico.
“I’ve been wanting to do to this for two or three years now, and this is the finally the year we got it going,” said Mull. “When I first put it out there, I was hoping to just get some kind of response. There’s a lot of others that wanted to come, but couldn’t because of being out of town. Still, this is a big turnout for the first year.”
“You’re around these girls for four years and then they go off to college and go into the working world,” Mull added. “You don’t lose touch with them, but you don’t get to see them a lot anymore, so it’s neat to have a bunch of them back. It’s a good mix. Every team brings back memories and it’s just really neat to see them all.”
Gordon Lee won a slow pitch state title under Coach Clay Crowder back in 1993, made the transition to fast pitch shortly thereafter. Crowder would step down to go into administration in 2003 and the school hired Mull (then Reed) to take over and build upon the foundation that Crowder layed down.
“I think this is really neat,” Crowder said. “Most of these girls out here today didn’t play for me, but a couple of them did. It’s great to see this whole group together. There are a lot of really good athletes out here and a whole lot of rings.”
Mull’s first team won the region title and finished third in the state tournament. The following year, Gordon Lee repeated as Region 6-A champion and went on to defeat Brookstone, 3-0, for their first state title.
The team finished third in state again in 2005, but have played for the state title every year since. They were state runner-up from 2006 to 2009, but responded by winning four straight crowns from 2010 to 2013.
The 2010 squad went 38-0 and remains the only fastpitch team in GHSA history to go unbeaten for an entire season. They tacked on a 37-1 campaign the following year.
Gordon Lee was bumped up to Class AA in 2014 and finished second in state, but came back to win it all the following year. They added their seventh state championship last fall when they moved back down to Class A and are one of the favorites to win it all again in 2017.
They are on a remarkable streak of 14 consecutive region championships, all under Mull. They also had a winning streak of over 100 games against region opposition, which began in 2006 and lasted through 2014. They have won their last 29 games against region opponents since that one loss.
“It’s a winning program, so it’s something to look back on and be proud of,” said Clarkson, an All-State centerfield for the Lady Trojans, who went on to play college ball at Chattanooga. “When I was playing, we were getting good. We were region champions and we were on our way to becoming state champions, but to see what all they have accomplished, it makes me proud to come back and wear a Gordon Lee softball shirt.”
“I guess it kind of starts with what we did, but they have gone on and built upon it and the tradition just continues,” said Tracy, who was in the circle for the 2004 state title game and who now is the head coach at Windsor Forest High School. “There was that expectation back in 2004 and from then on, it was like we wouldn’t accept losing.
“It doesn’t surprise me (that the program has kept winning). The expectations were there. We had great coaching and great community support. People want to be a part of this program and once you get on that field, there’s the expectation to win. If you don’t play up to that level here, you don’t play at all.”
Pritchett, a recent graduate that will play for Chattanooga State this season alongside Miller, said it felt “super weird” to know she was now classified as a Gordon Lee alum.
“I feel like I should still be out here with the high school girls and filling in with them today,” she laughed. “It feels like I just played in the state championship game the other day, but it means a ton to know that we’ve had this tradition go on for so long with so many successful teams. It feels great to be a part of that and know that we lived up to the standards they set a long time ago.”
Crowder, an honorary coach for the game, said he takes a lot of pride in seeing how the fastpitch program developed.
“What Dana has done with this softball program is just amazing,” he said with a smile. “I was proud of what I did, but she just took it and blew it away.”