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Hartselle grad guides team to title

By By J.W. Greenhill, Hartselle Enquirer
There must be something in the water in Hartselle.
Although 1997 Hartselle High graduate Matt Walters never made the varsity baseball squad at his alma mater, he picked up enough baseball to guide the Morrisville Panthers of Bolivar, Mo. to a 1A state championship only two weeks after graduating from Southwest Baptist University with a degree in physical education.
Walters said he made playing baseball and studying the game "pretty much my whole life. I've loved baseball since I was 5 years old."
Walters joked that after being involved with the Panthers' state championship team two weeks after graduating from college, his coaching career might be "all downhill from here."
He's not serious though. Morrisville's championship squad lost only a pitching ace to graduation. "Chris Gerleman is as good as they come. He throws in the high 80s or low 90s. We'll miss him, but we've got everyone else back. I hope to be able to win our district and make it to the state playoffs again next year," Walters said.
However Walters knows a return to the championship won't be a cakewalk. "The team we beat in the quarterfinals is loaded with sophomores and they'll want a piece of us."
Missouri currently uses a 4A classification system for baseball, but is planning to move to a 5A system next year. Morrisville is a small school with a student body of approximately 160 students in ninth through 12 th grade, Walters said. "It's a town of about 300 people, but it draws people from all around." Alabama uses a 6A classification system.
The road from Hartselle to baseball glory in Missouri took an unassuming route for Walters.
His family moved to Hartselle from Gulfport, Miss. and the youngster entered the ranks of so many who've played in the youth leagues here.
He played league ball and finally earned a spot on the American Legion Senior Bombers squad in his senior year, but never made the cut on the high school team because of injury and stiff competition.
After graduating from high school, Walters enrolled at Southwest Baptist University and got a try out on the college team through his friendship with Larry Stehr.
Stehr was youth minister at First Baptist Church in Hartselle during Walters' high school years and when Stehr took a youth pastorate in Missouri, Walters followed.
He made the Southwest Baptist team for one season and continued his studies in physical education.
During his junior year of college Walters said he was sure he wanted to coach and began sending out letters to various local schools offering to volunteer.
A response from Morrisville about a basketball coaching position brought Walters to Bolivar where he didn't get the basketball position, but was able to volunteer as the baseball assistant coach.
There he became the sixth coach in four years to work with a Panther squad building a tradition similar to Hartselle's.
The Panthers finished second in 1999 and as district runners up in 2000 under the direction of Lance Quessenberry and David Francka. Joe Garrison joined Francka and coached Morrisville to a 25-4 record and a third-place finish in the state in 2001.
Jeff Hannah took over as head coach in 2002 with Walters as his assistant, but Hannah was dismissed mid-season, leaving Walters to lead the team under the direction of school athletic director Mike McHolland.
"I called most of the shots, but I hadn't graduated and didn't have my teachers certification, so I couldn't be the head coach," Walters said from his Bolivar apartment.
The Panthers finished with a 21-5 record and the state championship under the direction of Walters and McHolland.
That will change next season when the Panthers take the field again. Since graduating from SBU, Walters has been officially named the head coach by the Morrisville school board.

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