By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Some of Courtney Bonaiuto’s best softball moments the last four years have taken place hundreds of miles away from her former high school home of Munford.
As part of four State Tournament Lady Cougar teams, Bonaiuto visited Murfreesboro every May during her prep career.
“We couldn’t go last year,” Bonaiuto’s stepfather John Ballard recalled. “But hearing her name called out over the radio was very impressive and a very exciting moment.”
The little girl who grew up in Munford and started playing softball at the age of 5 matured into an athletic slap hitter for Lady Cougar Head Coach Glenn Goulder.
Bonaiuto and her teammates made sure her parents would have a chance to watch her wrap up her varsity career at State reaching the tournament for the fourth straight season this past May.
But Bonaiuto’s final tournament as Lady Cougar didn’t mean the end of her traveling softball day.
“We went to Birmingham to play travel ball in an exposure tournament,” Rhonda said. “The coach saw her and now she’s settled. She’s excited.
“It’s a closure to young childhood into young adulthood,” she continued. “Now we are settled. We were undecided to where we wanted to go.”
As Courtney wrestled with her college decision, it was a chance sighting by Tennessee Temple Assistant Coach Nate Tompkins that paved the way to Bonaiuto becoming a Crusader.
“At the end of regular season, our goal was to be able to go out and find speed and slappers,” Crusader Head Coach Randy Crawford recalled. “My assistant Nate and I were down in Birmingham. I had to leave a day early. He came down the next day and spotted her.
“He watched her play and he did all the homework on her,” he continued. “Then she came up to the school. I was really impressed by her hitting in the cage, throwing in all. I got to see what he was talking about.”
With several friends and family in attendance at the Old Timers Restaraunt in Millington July 9, Bonaiuto made it official by signing her national letter of intent.
“It’s a nice Christian college in Chattanooga,” Ballard said. “She has family over there. She’ll still have family where she’s at so that we know she’ll be safe. If she needs anything we know she’ll be taken care of. And it’s good to know she’s going to a good Christian college which believes in a good foundation.”
Bonaiuto’s foundation was shaped by her playing days in Tipton County. While she was a sophomore at Munford, Crawford and staff were starting the Tennessee Temple program.
The NCCAA and USCAA school will enter its fourth season and continue to play NAIA and NCAA Divisi on II and III schools in the non-conference schedule.
“It’s amazing how one door can close and another can open,” Courtney said. “We really weren’t expecting it but it’s just a great opportunity. I’m excited for the season. I’m excited to meet all my new teammates. I’m just excited to see where life is going to take me.”
Life the past four years as a Lady Cougar as been productive for Bonaiuto. The first couple of years she mostly watched her teammate guide Munford to the school’s first two State Tournaments.
“Courtney is one who fought the battle,” Goulder said. “She didn’t get a lot of playing time as a freshman or a sophomore. But she started getting more as she got more experience. She’s one of the most athletic kids we had on the team. She’s really, really quick and has a strong arm.”
Those first two seasons Bonaiuto made the most of her time around the program and talented players like fellow college signees Ashley Hobson and Sami Jo Schulz.
“Sami Jo Schulz and Ashley Hopson were the ones who taught me and guided me through everything,” Bonaiuto said of learning how to slap hit. “They helped me a lot. I’m very grateful for them. After the years they left, I kind of learned for myself and adjust as much as I could.
“It’s a really big honor to be with those girls class because they’re amazing players and highly respected players,” she continued. “It’s truly an honor to be among those Lady Cougars who signed.”
Rhonda admitted she has some bias but she would put her daughter’s skill level up there with some of the best Lady Cougars of all time.
“She performed well in high school,” she said. “She’s more reserved. She doesn’t let herself out. She’s overall a great player. She’s really hard on herself. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. She took off running and has made it.”
Ballard noted that Courtney not got discouraged waiting for her time to shine for Munford.
“She really stuck with it,” he noted. “She wasn’t a starter her freshman year. But she was out there running. They put her out there to get some field experience. She’s been to the State Tournament all four years.
“So she’s been with the best in the State each year even before she was getting the playing time,” Ballard continued. “Then she proved she should be against the best of the best.”
Goulder said Bonaiuto proved she’s one of the best by paying it forward.
“She was helping some of the younger ones learn how to slap this year,” he said. “She’s going to hand it down. That’s kind of cool that they have become coaches in their own rights.”
For four years Bonaiuto’s attitude has been team first.
“That’s what its all about,” she said. “It’s about the team and what’s best for the team. It was just my time to sit and wait, it was just my time to sit and wait.”
Now a new team that will move to a new campus in the next year awaits. Bonaiuto adds her name to the long list of Lady Cougars to play college softball. But the MHS graduate said she and fellow graduates Christina Cantrell and Jodie Duncan are a part of exclusive Lady Cougar club she hopes will add more members next year.
“It’s a blessing to say we were able to reach State four straight years,” she concluded. “The two of those girls are my best friends. We’ve been together all four years. To be able to do that with them was really amazing. We have those memories.”