Pursuing their third straight state championship, The King’s Academy softball players keep Christ first
By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
SEYMOUR — Having been in existence for less than five years, The King’s Academy softball team has quickly established itself as a genuine Goliath — in a David-sized body.
Proudly carrying the banner for a high school that has only about 160 students, the Lady Lions have captured back-to-back Division II-A state championships in the past two years, and they appear primed to make a push toward a third consecutive title in the next few weeks.
Owning a 24-2 record this season, the team is ranked No. 4 in the state (through April 27). The Lady Lions have compiled a 140-22 overall record in their four-plus seasons of varsity fastpitch softball, and have been ranked among the Top-25 teams in the country by USA Today.
The secret to all this success? Oh, it’s no secret at all. In fact, it’s a very visible, very prominent part of the TKA program. It can be seen in the Scripture references that some of the players write on their arms before games, and it can be spotted when the team gathers for prayer after each game and each practice.
“Every day, we lift up the Lord and we lift up others around us,” said TKA softball coach and athletic director Marc Weekly. “And we do that because we know that the blessings that we have enjoyed are not ours. They’re all at the hand of God.”
The TKA players say Christian values and beliefs are as much a part of the Lady Lions’ culture as slap-bunts and squeeze plays.
“It’s so comforting to know that I can be open with my beliefs and appreciated for what I want to do,” said junior Madison Webber, an All-State selection last season who has committed to play at the University of Tennessee. “I’ve grown up in church, and I got saved when I was about 9. Since then, I have tried to work on getting closer and closer to God, and tried to do the things that He would want me to do.”
The King’s Academy is a private Tennessee Baptist institution that has been in existence for more than 100 years, and the players on the softball team say they embrace, and try to enhance, the school’s legacy of honoring Christ.
“We love our school and the environment we’re in,” said junior Regan Weekly, the coach’s daughter who batted .656 last season while earning All-State honors. “Being at a private school, we’re able to be free about our faith. Our program is centered around God, family and our group. And I think one of the things that helps us be successful is that we have passion for things that are important to us.”
Obviously, the Lady Lions are passionate about winning, as proven by their level of success. But the players are also fervent about their relationship with the Lord.
“If it wasn’t for my faith, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said junior Katelyn Norris. “I give all the glory to Him.”
Building from scratch
Marc Weekly came to The King’s Academy in 2012 to take on the roles of athletic director, development officer, and head softball coach.
He arrived at TKA with a resumè — and a heritage — that was rich in softball. Weekly’s father, Ralph Weekly, is the co-head coach of the softball team at the University of Tennessee, sharing the duties with his wife, Karen.
Marc Weekly served nine seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at UT, and played a role in helping the Lady Vols reach the Women’s College World Series six times in that stretch.
Still, despite his pedigree, Weekly was aware that starting a brand-new program at TKA wouldn’t be easy. In his first season at the helm, the team had five eighth-graders in the starting lineup, which was just one of the early challenges.
“We didn’t have uniforms, and we didn’t have a field,” he said with a chuckle. “So, all of our games were away games that first season.”
But the Lady Lions prospered, going 18-8 in their first year. Since then, the team has gained momentum at the speed of a fastball, and the Lady Lions are now widely considered to be one of the premiere programs in the state. Three years ago, the school added a softball field to the campus – and the Lady Lions have never lost a home game.
Upward and Onward
The success of the softball team has served as a gateway to college careers for many of the TKA girls, including seven players on this year’s roster who have either signed scholarships or committed to play at the next level. But Weekly is quick to deflect the credit for the exposure that his team, and his players, have garnered.
“It’s not me, and it’s not TKA,” he said. “It’s the abilities that God has bestowed on these girls and the blessings he has given the school. It’s remarkable.”
The players on this year’s team who have signed or commited to play in college include: Haydyn Jenkins (University of Toledo), Teygan Bouknight (Charleston Southern), Sarah Knight (Maryville College), Tori Voiles (King University), Regan Weekly (Dartmouth), Webber (UT) and Norris (Charleston Southern).
“The success we’ve had has been amazing,” said Norris. “I’ve been with the program since my eighth grade year, and it never disappoints. Each year, it just keeps getting more exciting.”
That sentiment is true not just for softball, but for TKA athletics as a whole.
“When I first arrived here, the goal was to change the culture of our athletics,” said Weekly. “We wanted to become better competitors while also continuing to be great servants of God. We know that athletics is not the most important room in the house, but it’s the front porch. It’s the most visible.”
Weekly said he received full support from many influential members of the administration, including school president, Walter Grubb, and former principal LeRoy Beam, along with the school’s leadership board.
“They gave me complete autonomy to go in different directions, so that’s what we did,” Weekly said. “And with the help of so many great individuals, here we are five years later, with 10 state championships (total for the school). We’ve gone from losing 82 percent of our games to winning 87 percent. It’s been a great turnaround.”
Culture of Caring
The TKA softball players say they feel blessed to be at a school where Christian principles are not only allowed, but applauded. They know that isn’t the case at many schools.
Webber, the first baseman for the Lady Lions, came to TKA in eighth grade after previously attending public school. The same is true for shortstop Hayden Jenkins.
“It’s a completely different setup here,” said Webber.
“At (TKA), you know everyone, you are friends with everyone and they really are like your family. People know what is going on in your life — and they care about it,” she added.
Jenkins said the closeness of the softball team is a blessing that can’t be undervalued.
“We have an incredible bond,” Jenkins said. “Anytime there is a problem — family issues, school issues, personal issues — your teammates have your back, your coaches have your back, the administration and faculty have your back.”
Regan Weekly said the key factor behind the team’s closeness isn’t just softball. Rather, it’s the spiritual commitment that draws them together.
“Since we share the same faith, it allows us to be more open with each other and we allow ourselves to be more vulnerable in terms of opening up about our prayer requests and letting the team know when you might be struggling with something,” she said.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect all the time. But it’s pretty close.
“Well, we are girls, and we are good at drama,” Weekly said with a laugh. “But at the end of the day, our main goal is making sure that our teammate’s needs are more important than our own. That’s our mentality and it really helps us move together in one direction.”
Obviously, that’s a winning formula for the Lady Lions.