Sale Creek's Clifford Kirk improving after on-field collapse
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Local softball coach Clifford Kirk remains hospitalized at Erlanger, but is improving after collapsing on the field during Wednesday night's Region 3-A championship game at Sale Creek High School.
Family, friends and school officials have all relayed positive reports of his health after what doctors called a "cardiac event" that was apparently related to his pacemaker.
Sale Creek principal Tobin Davidson said four nurses were among the crowd at the game, and rushed to Kirk's aid after he collapsed on the third base bag. They began administering chest compressions until an ambulance from the Sale Creek Volunteer Fire and rescue team arrived and used a defibrillator to restart his heart.
"A thank you for them because they're the difference that saved his life," Davidson said of the nurses.
He was awake and responsive during the ride to the hospital and spent the night in the ICU undergoing a battery of tests.
His players, both current and former, flooded the hospital to check on the local legend, who boasts the area's most impressive softball coaching resume after four decades in the game.
The 74-year-old has won ten state championships, including last year's Class AAA state title before retiring at Soddy-Daisy. He was lured back to the field this year at Sale Creek, where he's turned a team that features four eighth-graders and won just one game last season into a district champion.
East Hamilton head coach Cara Stiles, who played for Kirk at Soddy-Daisy, was among the visitors. She said the caring coach showed no ill effects of the traumatic experience.
"Clifford wanted to know if he won or not, so when he said that we were like 'Yes! He's okay!'" Stiles said.
He spoke with his team both Wednesday night and Thursday morning, providing last-minute instructions ahead of the completion of the 3-A title game. The game was suspended at the point Kirk collapsed.
"This morning my cell phone rang I got to work and it was Coach Kirk and he was worried about the ball game tonight. He wanted to know if I would stand in for him," Davidson said. "His words were you take care of tonight and I'll pick it up from there. He said tell the girls I won't be there in body but I'll be there in spirit, and he will."
In an emotional finish, Whitwell claimed a 5-1 win Thursday afternoon to win the region title. Sale Creek will now travel to Gordonsville Friday evening in a sub-state sectional. The winner advances to next week's spring fling.