By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The academic curriculum at Southwest Tennessee would be Keith Gentry’s saving grace.
Making his rounds throughout the Mid-South visiting softball games, the head coach of the Lady Salquis was once again in Tipton County watching the Munford Lady Cougars.
Checking out the talent of Glenn Goulder’s Lady Cougars, Gentry came across a few new prospects but made it a point to not focus on catcher MaKayla Pugh.
“She’s one that I’ve known about since middle school,” he said. “Her Dad Chris played for me with the Memphis Royals. We go way back. So I’ve heard of her before. She had already committed to a school. So I thought there was no chance.”
But Pugh’s power to all fields, defense behind the plate and stature grab the attention of current Lady Salquis.
“In fact, I came to watch one of the games last spring with some of our players,” Gentry recalled. “And one of my players pointed out the catcher. ‘She’s good.’ ‘We can’t get her. She’s already committed.’
“Then I talked to Chris and found out there was a chance,” he continued. “It’s a better fit with us academically. So I’m very glad to get here. She’s very talented. I’m looking at her at catching, maybe third.”
MaKayla’s talents will be heading to the campus of Southwest Tennessee next fall. She made it official Nov. 15 in the Munford High School Library signing her letter of intent with her parents Chris and Jennifer, sister MaKenzie, aunt Missy Bradley and Grandma Pam Hartsfield by her side.
“I’m proud she made the decision her own,” Chris said. “We always told her education is first and foremost. Biggest thing in a girls’ life, they don’t have the chances a male has. There’s no pro softball league.
“She committed at a young age to Southern Arkansas,” he added. “Once she got looking at their curriculum, she decided that wasn’t the place for her to be. She wanted to study physical therapy.”
MaKayla was a sophomore when she gave her verbal commitment to Southern Arkansas.
“As much as Chris has taught her the love for the game, we always pushed education and career choice,” Jennifer said. “Seeing her big sister, she chose not to play. She wanted to get out there and focus on her education too.”
MaKayla has Division I interest from Ohio Valley and Sun Belt Conference teams. But most coaches on that level advised her that the demands of a Division I schedule and medical degree would be too taxing.
“Kayla wasn’t even looking for a big school,” Jennifer said. “She was looking for somewhere she could still play the game, go to that next level, but still get her education.”
Goulder said he was not surprised by MaKayla’s final decision because she’s a smart player on the field as well.
“She’s a great athlete,” he said. “Probably one of the best athletes we’ve had come through in a long time. I think she’s an excellent student and she’s making the right decision.”
Southwest proved to be the ideal spot for MaKayla.
“Softball isn’t everything,” she said. “You really can’t go anywhere – you can’t go pro. I’d rather focus on education.
“It’s great I feel like if I didn’t play softball in college I would regret as I got older,” MaKayla added. “So I feel like, ‘Why not play two more years with people I know.’”
Chris said he is glad to hear his daughter didn’t get burned out from the game and kept her priorities in check.
“It helps I’ve been down this road,” he said. “I’ve done it myself. My Dad ran baseball down my throat. I did not have a teenage life. And I promised my girls I would be a better father. There is life outside of ball.”
Chris played at Colombia State before transferring to Southwest to be closer to his ill father. Then he was able to play for Gentry in 1993 and 94 with the Memphis Royals.
Chris noted there is still an outside chance if MaKayla has a good two years at Southwest she might head to a four-year institution. But for now MaKayla and her family are happy she’s on the right path in life.
“Her Dad has always told her softball is not life,” Jennifer said. “He told her it’s something you can do but it can only carry you so far. It’s a max of four years possible.
“But the most important things are your education and career,” she concluded. “It makes me very proud that she is thinking beyond four years of softball.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.