By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Over the past 12 years, Amy Henning and Ron Clement have shared many special moments with their daughter Kayla Clement because of softball.
Another memory was created Dec. 13 in the lobby of Tipton-Rosemark Academy when Clement signed her letter of intent to play softball at the storied Chattanooga State for Head Coach Blythe Golden.
With her sister Madison, stepfather Jason Henning, TRA Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello and many others in attendance for the signing, many trips down memory lane were being taken.
One flashback for Amy included a person who was in the present through the spirits of those he loved, Kayla’s Papa Ronnie Clement.
“My favorite moment is when she was at a tournament and (Ron’s) Daddy was sick,” Amy recalled. “She hit a home run dead center. It went beyond the parking lot. She did it for him. She told herself that morning she was going to do it for him.
”Kayla’s signing was also dedicated to her late grandfather who got sick during the COVID-19 pandemic. The global virus affected another phase of Clement’s life when it came to playing her granddad and dad taught her to love on the college level.
“I was really hard for me to get past all the COVID stuff because my dream was to go D-I,” Kayla acknowledged. “I know I could have done that. But I think Chatt State is a really good option. They’re one of the best JUCOs in the country. They are going to get me to where I want to go.”
The program built by Coach Golden has a winning tradition. In her eight seasons with the Lady Tigers, Golden’s overall record of 323-90 with a .782 winning percentage. Last season, the Lady Tigers compiled a record of 43-10 with a conference record of 23-5.
The Lady Tigers were the 2019 Regular Season Region VII Champions and TCCAA Region VII Tournament Champions. Golden was named TCCAA Coach of the Year in 2019 and she has multiple players winning honors and extending their softball careers.
“This is all a result of hard work,” Sanfratello said of Kayla’s signing. I hate to say this is the ‘best’ or the ‘most’ of any of my players. This is definitely one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever coached.
“Real blue collar and plays with a chip on her shoulders,” he added. “Such a hard working kid, this has been one of her goals since her freshman year. You’ll hear me allude to some of the hard work and how she’s one of the most competitive kids I have ever coached.”
The desire to compete led to a position change for Clement entering the Lady Rebel program.
“She came in as a shortstop,” he recalled. “She was wanting to play shortstop but I had Lexi Williams at that spot, a three-year, All-District and All-Region caliber of player. I told her, ‘Look she is going to have lost that spot. But if you want you can go get it. But this is what I do need. I need a third base.’
“She said, ‘I just want to compete,’” Sanfratello continued. “She’s an infielder. She wants the ball hit at her. She wants to make that play. I know when that ball is hit to that side it is an out. She is a phenomenal defensive player. She takes so much pride playing on that side. She works on everything a lot but she takes a lot of pride in defense.”
Kayla’s first coach was her dad Ron. The former Shelby State and Memphis State baseball player invested time and his knowledge into his daughter.
“It feels great and she’s worked hard for this,” Ron said. “She’s earned every bit of this. She started up in Atoka Dixie Softball around age of 6 and we moved her up to continue her growth in the game.
“It’s good that she’s getting to do what she wants to do and continue on to the next level,” he added. “She’s not ready to stop here. She’s going to continue to work hard.”
Amy said Ron and Ronnie developed Kayla’s skills but a lot of her accomplishments in softball came naturally.
“She’s always worked hard and we’ve always held herself accountable,” she noted. “She likes to grind. She’s the first one hitting in the complex. They made a hitting cage in the attic. She gets up there in the blazing heat to work on her heating. She’s always wanted it and loved it.”
With role models like University of Washington infielder Sis Bates, Clement is a fan of the game. The foundation of her passion for softball started in the family.
“A lot of it was my dad and a lot of it was my grandfather who is not here anymore,” she said. “My Papa instilled it in my dad. Then my dad instilled it in me. Ever since I was little, they would always come to my games and help me get better. That love of the game was put in me.”
Ron’s investment in his daughter was on display when it came time to build the new family home, he had Kayla as a priority.
“We just built our house three years ago,” Kayla said. “In order to build the attic, he told the builders everywhere to place the things up there. All our air vents are off to the side so we can have room for that cage. He’s made room for a pitching machine to go up there.”
Amy’s major contribution to Kayla’s signing coming to fruition was keeping her head straight during the ups and downs of life.
“An early morning I have to go play, it’s safe to say I am tired,” she said. “She does everything to help me by playing music. She plays funny music, anything to help me get up for the game and wake me up. She picks me up even if I had a bad game. She keeps that love and energy in me.”
That’s why Amy was there in the stands the day Kayla gave a tribute to her Papa.
“I went into that tournament kind of sad,” Kayla recalled. “I knew he had just gone into the hospital and he was about to pass. It was sad because I couldn’t be there for him. I felt like I was going to miss something. But I couldn’t see him anyway because of COVID.“I just had it in me that I was going to play that tournament for him because it may have been the last one I get to play with him still here with me,” she added. “I just thought maybe if he woke up from the ventilator, or if he woke up in the hospital that would be something he would be proud of.”
The promise Kayla made to herself to sign a college scholarship came true just like her homer dedicated to the Patriarch of the family.
“I went into the game, I was hitting pretty good the whole day, but that last game I knew I had to do something,” she concluded. “I hit it and I couldn’t finish running the bases before I was crying. Everybody was so happy for me. I had to walk out of the dugout because I felt him there with me.”