SALE CREEK, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Clifford Kirk didn't have to rake or line an infield at last week's Lady Trojan Invitational in Soddy-Daisy.
He claims to be officially retired from the grounds crew at Soddy Lake Kids' Park.
At one point last summer he also claimed to be retired from high school coaching, though that plan was short-lived.
"Once I got away from it, I still liked to go to the ballgames," said Kirk, who continued to coach middle school ball. "So I figured I might as well have kept coaching, I guess."
The local softball legend stepped down at Soddy-Daisy last spring after winning his tenth career Class AAA state championship, only to be lured back to the dugout a few months later at Class A school Sale Creek.
It had been more than two decades since Kirk was last on the small-school level, having formerly been an assistant at Lookout Valley before winning his first AAA title with Hixson.
The Lady Panthers offered a drastic difference in roster numbers and overall program tradition than Soddy-Daisy, but Kirk is enjoying the challenge.
"I'm more intense on the things I try to do," he said. "These kids, it's not that they're not good athletes, they just haven't done the things that we're trying to do.
"It's a learning process for them, and it's a learning process for me because I have to be more patient."
Just down Highway 27, the expectations set during Kirk's tenure remain.
But long-time Kirk assistant Wes Skiles, who also coaches at feeder-school Loftis Middle, hasn't miss a beat while leading the tradition.
"I've had a lot of these girls either coaching them or coaching against them," Skiles said. "I've been an assistant the last six years, so we didn't change much in the program. We just tweaked some things here and there."
Thanks to that familiarity, Skiles said he had no nerves taking over one of the state's powerhouse softball programs. The Lady Trojans are off to a 12-3 start after returning a load of talent, and Skiles knows he has plenty more rising through the ranks.
"We've got a softball rich community with a lot of great kids," he said. "They give a lot of effort and have a great attitude. I'm just blessed to be here."
Kirk is saying the same at Sale Creek.
The old dog is learning a few new tricks from an extremely young team that is hovering around .500 despite sometimes playing as many as four eighth-graders.
The progress may often seem a little slow, but Kirk is relishing the opportunity to build a new tradition and a new power program.
"I really like it. It's different and more laid back. I'm happy I'm here," Kirk said. "The kids are improving every day, and I'm going to make sure they continue doing that."
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