DeSoto Central High School softball coach Phyllis Hicks didn’t play the lottery Tuesday, but the feeling that swept over her when she read a letter she received at school likely resembled that which comes over someone who realizes they picked all of the numbers and the Powerball.
It was a letter from the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), the governing body for high school sports that operates similarly to what the NCAA does for college sports.
The letter stated that of all of the fast-pitch softball coaches in the country, she was National Coach of the Year.
“I received the letter on Tuesday,” Hicks said. “I stopped mid-letter and tried to process it because I had just finished class, I was going to lunch duty and got my mail. I started reading the letter and then I looked at it again. Then, with Mr. (Cliff) Johnston (school principal) there, I said to him, ‘I think I’m National Coach of the Year, read it with me.’”
He did and it did and with the news release that followed the next day it confirmed that Hicks, whose Lady Jags softball team this year won its first MHSAA 6A state championship last May, was chosen to wear the title of National Coach of the Year, a first among softball coaches in Mississippi.
“I’m so excited for our state and our sport and our county to be recognized more than anything,” Hicks said. “It’s a huge honor. I told the team that if I’m national coach of the year, then they’re national team of the year in my eyes.”
The returning members of the team from last season, along with the graduated seniors, fashioned a magical season in 2018, completed by a series victory over Harrison Central in the state finals.
“That team believed in each other and that team believed in the process to the outcome was just as important as the outcome,” said Hicks. “Each day was the process of getting to where we wanted to be at the end of the year. We not just focused on the end of the year, but we focused on the process. The ladies also cared for and loved each other and that makes a difference.”
The national honor is another in a line of firsts for Hicks and for her teams. The Southaven native played for the crosstown Lady Chargers in high school and was part of the first-ever state championship teams that were coached by the late Morris Hunter.
In the early years of the sport, Southaven won five state championships but DeSoto County had not brought a state trophy home since the Lady Chargers’ last title in 2005.
Following a college softball career at Ole Miss, Hicks became the first and only coach for the sport at DeSoto Central, coaching freshmen and sophomores only that first year the school existed. Her teams have compiled a 335-106-6 career record and have won North Half titles three times, in addition to her state championship last spring.
In her resume information for the national award, Hicks also noted that 70 percent of her players have received scholarships to play in college and at least one of her players annually has been selected to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Games, where she has also been a coach.
Hicks was named state coach of the year by the Mississippi High School Activities Association last October, “but I never told anybody,” she admits. Hicks was then placed in nomination for NFHS South Section Coach of the Year, which she received. It was that award put her in contention for the national award.
“The quality of coaches in Mississippi has so dramatically improved over the past 15 years,” said Hicks. “The education in the sport, the popularity of the sport, the training of the athletes to be successful in fast-pitch softball, you see that at every level and it is incredible, which is just helping Mississippi grow.”
It should also help now in recruiting new coaches to the state that it is home to the high school sport’s National Coach of the Year.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.