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Zak Yates named 8th Region Assistant Coach of the Year

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By Tommie Kendall

Through nine seasons, five head coaches and numerous wins and losses, Zak Yates has been the one common denominator on the Henry County High School baseball team for almost a decade. Now, after the best season Henry County has produced during Yates’ tenure, his tireless work is not going unnoticed. Following Henry’s remarkable baseball season, which ended in the championship game of the 8th Region tournament two months ago, Yates was named the 8th Region Assistant Baseball Coach of the Year. The award came after a season in which former head coach Mike Thibodeaux left the team during mid-season conditioning, and Austin Hunsaker stepped into the head role. Yates remained the assistant and helped lead the Wildcats to their unpredictable year. “It’s one of those deals where there’s no way we could have had the success we had without coach Yates,” Hunsaker said. “He’s been the one constant to this program. The kids know he will always be here. He knows the community, everyone knows him and his knowledge of baseball is as good, if not better, than anyone I’ve ever been around. No team has success based by the job of head coaches alone, but assistants as well. And I think we have the best in the region, and maybe the entire state.” The annual award started three years ago, and is voted on by 8th Region coaches. Hunsaker nominated Yates at the regional baseball meeting this season, said a few words about why Yates deserved the award, and Yates ultimately came away as the top assistant of the year. Out of the 16 teams and numerous assistants, there were three that were nominated and voted on. “The award I won means a lot to me,” Yates said. “There are so many great coaches out there that put in so much time and I want to thank them for voting for me. This award would not be possible if it were not for coaches Tim Thompson, Jon Will, Nathan Tanner, Mike Thibodeaux and Austin Hunsaker. Also, the work that Stan and Mary Olsen, Bruce Gentry and our Athletics Director Todd Gilley do makes our coaching so much easier. I am not much on single awards or recognitions because baseball is the greatest team game. I would gladly trade it in to see our players win an 8th Region championship and get the chance to play in a state tournament. That’s one of our goals every year.” The Wildcats almost made the school’s first state-tournemant appearance on the baseball diamond, but lost to Anderson County in the regional finals, which was just the second time they reached the title game in school history. During the season, the Wildcats swept all three district titles — freshman, junior varsity and varsity — they won the conference title, district title and finished the season with an impressive 20-8 record. Like the previous nine years, Yates was there to see all the ups and downs that goes along with a full baseball season. “To see those guys making the lifetime memories that they did was really gratifying,” Yates said. “The memories we try to give them and the life lessons we try to teach them with baseball is what I enjoy most about coaching.” Yates’ passion for coaching can be traced back to his playing days as a Wildcat from 1990-1993. He played catcher all four years, under the guidance of Donnie Williams for the first two years and Steve Gaylon for the final two. Since 2000, when he returned back to the field along the sideline, he’s coached the freshmen, JV and varsity teams. “It’s taught me a lot because you get to see different coaching philosophies and techniques,” said Yates, who either played or coached for seven different head coaches at HCHS. “I have been able to take some stuff from each guy and make it work at each level.” At a school the size of Henry County, and with a community that stands behind its athletic teams, Yates is a good fit. His hard work and dedication to the players was one of the key reasons for the team’s success this past season. “He does a lot of extra work that really goes unnoticed,” Hunsaker said. “It’s amazing what all he does.” But of course, Yates is always looking ahead to the future. And he knows to reach the next level, the Wildcats need more coaches to get them there. “If we want to get to where we can play consistently with the better teams in the state we need more coaches at practice and at games,” Yates said. “Coaching and being a player’s parent is all about giving the player the best high school baseball experience they can possibly have. I am hoping some former players will eventually want to come back and help. It’s tough when you are in the regional tournament and you have two coaches in your own dugout and you look to the opposite side and there are six. We need to build off the momentum of this past season.” E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.