Chapmanville softball coach Ronnie Ooten talks with Hanna Wooten, Haley McCann and Heather Nagy during last year’s Class AA state tournament at Vienna. Ooten is back for his 32nd season this spring despite a freak off-season injury. (Photo | Paul Adkins)
CHAPMANVILLE — To use a southern vernacular you could say that longtime Chapmanville Regional High School girls’ softball coach Ronnie Ooten is “tough as a cob.”
While doing some roofing last September with his son and grandson, Ooten fell more than 10 feet to the ground, breaking his left leg and sidelining him for months requiring him to be a wheelchair.
It was a big blow to the retired educator Ooten, who has always stayed active in his life as an outdoorsman.
He’s making a comeback, though, to no one’s surprise.
Ooten is still in recovery mode and is still hobbled by the broken bones but it’s not enough to keep him from the Chapmanville dugout. He’s excited to be back for the 2012 softball season and with 10 starters or part-time starters back from last year’s 23-8 state tournament team, the Lady Tigers are expected to be right in the thick of things once again.
Ooten, the sometimes fiery but often humorous head coach of the Lady Tigers, has taken the injury in stride and is well on his way to a full recovery.
“I’m back but I ain’t recovered. I’m hobblin’,” Ooten retorted in his usual laid-back Logan County drawl. “I’m still down but I’ll be alright. I fell off a roof and broke the lower part of my leg back in September. I was in a cast for about four months. It’s been tough, buddy, but I’ve got (assistant coaches) Dave (Elkins) and Rhonda (Richards) helping us out and they’re doing OK.”
The Chapmanville mentor has led the Lady Tigers to softball renaissance over the last 13 years, winning five Class AA state championships in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Last year, Chapmanville fell short of the state championship as the Lady Tigers were 1-2 at Vienna and failed to reach the finals.
Heading into last year’s state tourney, Chapmanville was an incredible 12-0 in the state tournament in its last four trips.
The Lady Tigers won it with a 27-9 record in 2007, a 31-3 record in 2009 and a 25-14 mark in 2010.
As a testament to Ooten’s longevity, he’s been the only coach the Lady Tigers have ever known. Ooten began coaching the Chapmanville softball program back in 1981 when the school fielded its first team. His wife, Barb, also an assistant coach and scorebook keeper, has also been along for the ride over the last 31 years.
What has followed in those three-plus decades has been a lot of success and a lot of wins.
Ooten will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t know what his all-time head coaching record is at Chapmanville.
With 31 seasons under his belt — all 31 seasons of sanctioned WVSSAC softball — and very few of which were sub .500 seasons, Ooten might very well be the all-time winningest coach in state history.
He doesn’t know and he really doesn’t seem to care.
That’s his style.
He just wants to win and see his girls be successful in life.
Last year was a highwater mark in Ooten’s career when the Lady Tigers moved into their brand new softball complex next to the high school.
Complete with spacious dugouts, a large pressbox and two sets of steel grandstands, it was everything Ooten had lobbied for ever since the Lady Tigers lost their old softball field at the end of the 2005 season to make way for the new Chapmanville Regional High School building and parking lot.
Before last season got under way, the Lady Tigers scrimmaged Riverside and had a dedication game, inviting back all of Ooten’s former players for a reunion and cookout.
Players from four decades from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s were present.
“I never thought I’d coach this long,” said Ooten, also a former girls’ basketball and football coach at Chapmanville High School. “I love it and I still enjoy it. People thought that when I got hurt that this would be it. People would say, ‘Are you going to give it up?’ And I’d say, ‘No. I’m having fun. I love it. I’ve got a good bunch of kids.’”