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By GOOSE LINDSAY
Diamond Softball Academy owner Darrell Williams was extremely proud when the Ten-nessee Sports Writers Association released its 2008 All-State Softball Team.
Four of his students — Monterey’s Taylor Adkins, Midway’s Hannah Colyer, Coalfield’s Lindsey Fadnek and Oliver Springs’ Kim Hall — were all named to the Class A team.
“I’m very proud of all four of them, because I know how hard they’ve worked,” Williams said. “They’ve each put in a lot of time in making themselves better.”
“Darrell has taught me everything I know,” Midway’s Colyer said. “I had no clue what I was doing when I started going to him.”
“He’s done a lot for me,” Oliver Springs’ Hall said of Williams.
“I remember when I first started going to the Diamond that I always got a spot away from everybody, because I kept hitting everybody. I remember working next to the wall and my curve ball would always hit the wall.”
While seeing his students achieve success is nothing new to Williams, who is considered one of the best teachers of softball fundamentals in the state, the fact that Williams is even working as a pitching and hitting instructor is a bit of a surprise.
Twenty years ago, the thought of coaching softball or giving lessons had never crossed his mind. It wasn't until he was unhappy watching his 5-year-old daughter Kim play T-ball in Austin, Texas, that the wheels started to turn.
“Kim was playing coach-pitch T-ball with the boys, and I didn't like how the girls were being treated,” Williams said. “They all hit at the end of the order, and they all had to play the outfield no matter how good they were. They also didn't get pitched to like the boys; they had to hit off a tee, and that got me all fired up.”
Williams admits that although he was angry about the situation, he wasn’t the one who stepped up and did anything about it.
That was up to his wife Teresa.
“I was always saying that somebody needed to do something for the girls,” Williams said. “Well, Teresa did. She signed me up to coach the next year without me knowing.”
Williams’ debut as a softball coach didn’t go well at first. His team lost their first eight games.
Again, Teresa stepped in and made things happen.
“Teresa told me that the girls wanted to be treated like athletes and not little girls,” Williams said. “I stopped treating them like little girls, and we didn't lose another game all season.”
Ever since that first year in softball, Williams has been hooked.
The Williamses eventually moved to Hendersonville, where Williams started a fast-pitch softball program.
It was also there that Williams hooked up with Sherry Kempf, owner of Club K softball training facility.
Kempf was giving the by-then 10-year-old Kim lessons, and Williams learned a lot while watching his daughter learn from one of the best.
Shortly afterward, the family moved back home to Roane County, where Williams introduced fast-pitch softball to kids not yet in high school when he coached the Roane County Raiders in 1994.
“That was the start of fast-pitch softball in Roane County,” Williams said. “Nobody other than July Mehaffey in Harriman was playing fast-pitch softball at that time in Roane County.”
At that point, Williams was still more of a coach than an individual instructor, but he was gaining more and more knowledge about all aspects the game as he attended various skill camps.
“I attended a camp hosted by Carson-Newman head coach Vickie Hollifield, and I learned a lot of drills to teach kids from that camp,” Williams said. “After that, people started seeing me work with Kim, and some of them wanted me to start working with their kids as well.”
From that point, Williams coached at Roane State and Cherokee Middle School while heading up his own Diamond Dodger program. He was also giving individual lessons as he continued to learn from the game’s best.
“I just kept attending clinics,” Williams said. “I attended Ernie Parker’s clinics, as well as Lisa Fernandez’s clinic, and she's the Babe Ruth of fast-pitch softball. I also learned from the Weeklys (UT co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly) the proper way to do slap hitting.”
In 2001, Williams opened his Diamond Softball Academy, and the results have been amazing. Softball players from six states presently make their way to Rockwood every week for lessons. Many of his players have received all-state honors, and more than 200 players have gone on to play college softball at every level.
Seven of Williams’ students have signed with the University of Tennessee. Former Lady Vol and three-time All-American Sarah Fekete is among the players Williams has taught over the years.
He has even worked with former Lady Vol great and current Olympian Monica Abbott.
His players have signed with pretty much every school in the state, as well as schools such as LSU, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio State and Texas Tech.
“When you see what he’s done for all those girls, it makes you work harder,” Coalfield’s eighth-grade phenomenon Fadnek said. “I know someday I want to be one of those girls.”
To be one of those girls, Fadnek, Hall and Colyer have been put through the wringer. Williams’ lessons are physically and mentally tough by design.
“I want it to be easier for them to pitch in a game than it is to go through one of my lessons,” Williams said.
“If they can handle my lessons, then a game should be nothing.”
“We have some really tough practices,” Colyer confirmed. “It’s really serious.”
“I've done so many pushups for him,” Hall added. "He's always in the back of my mind when I’m pitching. When things aren't going well in a game, I can hear Darrell saying, ‘you got to go hard when it's hard to go.’”
Williams said the main thing he tries to instill in his players is a hard-working attitude.
“I usually let about eight to 10 players a year go because they don’t work hard enough,” he said. “I want kids that will go all out and not be afraid to make mistakes. If they make mistakes, we can fix them.
“When they're playing, I ask them to always hustle and remember to have fun.”
Williams is now out of the coaching part of the game. Kim handles the day-to-day operations at the Diamond, but Williams said he’s far from retiring.
“As long as there is a need and I can still produce, then I’ll keep trying to help girls achieve success,” he said.