Chaney Dutton and her Lady Tiger teammates were celebrating a 6-2 win over Scottsboro, their eleventh consecutive win of the season, knowing that their season was going to be halted.
The Lady Tigers took the field on Saturday, March 14th, with mixed emotions. They received word a day earlier that as of March 18th their season would be put on hold due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
Moments after defeating Scottsboro, Dutton and her fellow seniors faced the realization that their season and dream of a state championship might be over.
“I was overwhelmed with disappointment, sadness, and a bit in shock when I first heard the season was postponed but understood the need to keep people safe,” Dutton said. “With all of the rumors going around, I knew that I needed to rely on information from Coach Ferguson, continue to work, stay focused, and stay positive for my team.”
Fourteen days later, heartbreak struck Dutton and her teammates.
On March 27th, the AHSAA announced that the rest of the spring season would be canceled, thus ending Dutton’s senior year of softball.
The decision by the AHSAA to call off spring sports came a day after Governor Kay Ivey announced that all public and private schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year because of COVID-19.
“I realized that I had already played my last game as a Lady Tiger wearing #23,” said Dutton. “That is a family number passed down from my grandfather to my dad. I have worn it since my first year.”
That night she drove to the Grady & Margie Long Softball Complex, home to the Lady Tigers and a place she considered her second home. She sat at the entrance of the field with an aching heart while saying goodbye to such a huge part of her life.
“I replayed every single memory from each of those fields and grieved for the memories that will never be,” she said.
She started playing softball at the age of four in the Sweetie division in the Hartselle Youth Softball Program.
“I knew I wanted to be a Lady Tiger my first year in league ball,” she said. “The Lady Tigers played on the field across from us. My family and I would stay and watch their games. I knew then that I wanted to play on that field one day.”
She recalled that the varsity players looked like giants and hit the ball so hard.
“You always look up to the older girls when you are young,” she said. “Now that I am that older girl, I try to live up to that standard.”
It was during her time playing youth softball that gave her most of her earliest childhood memories and endless love for softball.
“Some of my favorite memories were meeting teammates at the beginning of each season because each year brought a new team,” she said. “Being selected for All-Stars, traveling to District, State, and then representing Alabama in the World Series each year with my teammates was special. That was when I realized how supportive the Hartselle Community can be.”
Dutton played travel ball following her time in the youth softball league. But it was her time playing in Hartselle that meant the most to her because the community was most important.
Four years ago, Dutton embarked on her high school career that included time on both the junior varsity and varsity teams.
“This journey has been full of moments. This sport teaches so many lessons that I carry over into everyday life.,” Dutton said. “Each moment of every practice and every moment on every field built up to the excitement of her senior year.”
She finally saw her dream of starting for the Lady Tigers come true in 2020.
All the work that she had put in over the last 14 years has paid off as she would take the field wearing her familiar #23.
In the first game of the season, she picked up a hit and scored two runs in the Lady Tigers 9-0 victory over Arab.
Her favorite moment of the season was hitting a first-pitch grand slam in their 16-4 victory over their rival Cullman. She finished the day 2-of-3 with four RBI and two runs scored.
It was just a day later when they got the news that their season would be paused.
“We thought that we would resume play,” she said. “We felt fearful of losing what we worked and waited for. When you lose something you love, it’s natural to hurt.”
The Lady Tigers had a 12-1 record and were clinging to the hope of finishing their season after a couple of weeks away from the game.
Now two weeks later she was sitting alone in her Jeep thinking about what could have been.
“The moments that meant the most were times of leadership, singing on the bus rides, and seeing the fast growth of this team,” she said. “We were hungry to play. We were determined to prove ourselves. We came together quickly, worked as a family, and we’re ready to compete.”
“Chaney has worked very hard since she was little to accomplish her dream of playing college softball,” said Hartselle coach Christy Ferguson. “She has a love for Hartselle softball that runs deep. She came into the 2020 season and fulfilled her role as a leader both on and off the field. The sky is the limit for Chaney. I have been blessed to know her and will miss her when she is gone.”
Dutton now turns her focus to the next time she steps on the softball field. She will play for Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN. She committed to the RedHawks during the fall of her senior year.
“Martin Methodist is getting a good one that will go well beyond what is asked of her if it means the team will succeed,” Ferguson said.
After college, she plans to become a teacher and a coach. She wants to give back to the game and help others have their moments in the sun.
She said, “No matter what my heart is feeling, I know God is in control of this, and I am fully trusting His plan.”