Day to Remember: TRA Softball family rallies together to salute first State champs, pray for ailing coach


By Thomas Sellers Jr.

When May 27 rolls around, it will be officially 10 years since the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels made their presence felt on the TSSAA Softball stage. 

Built on the blood, sweat and tears of players like Lyndsey Sterling, Robyn Hornsby and many others, the work of previous Lady Rebel players and coaches like Mike Sterling set the table for May 27, 2011. It was in Murfreesboro at the Murfreesboro Sports Complex & McKnight Fields that day the TRA Softball team captured the school’s first State title in any sport with a 7-5 victory over the University School of Jackson Lady Bruins. 

“It was a just a great day for this small school,” former TRA Assistant Coach Amber Needham said. “Sometimes great things come in small packages. I’m just truly blessed to be a part of it. When you go back and look at this team that won State in 2011, it was kind of the foundation that laid out the journey for the rest of the teams thereafter. The program has been very successful since that day.”

In past 10 years, the Lady Rebels have had numerous college signees, multiple trips back to State and another title in 2014. Most of the players on that team joined Coach Needham for the reunion Saturday between games against the Covington Lady Chargers. A few of the Lady Rebels were not able to make the trip back to the TRA Softball Field. And another notable absence was the head coach of that team Joe Layton. Battling complications from COVID-19, the event and entire day was dedicated to Layton’s recovery with “Play for Joe.” 

The longtime TRA athletic director came to the school back in 1988. He took over his AD duties in 1994 and he also took time to coach golf, volleyball, football, basketball and softball. 

He was the one to put all the pieces together for the2011 Division II-A Softball championship winning the Coach of the Year. The school broadcasted the presentation to Layton’s players so he could watch from the rehabilitation center. 

Between the prayers and well wishes, the Lady Rebel legends reminisced, played catch up and just embraced the reunion aspect of the day. 

The players who returned for the day were Sally Downing Wilson, Jordan Collins, Ashton Needham, Bayleigh Nale, Audra Bibb, Mady Kate Gantt Baugus, Julanne McCommon, Hanna Durham Long, Jordan Whitley Barron and Roxanna Kimes. 

Kimes won The Commercial Appeal Best of the Preps Softball Player of the Year award, first in TRA history. She was The Millington Star’s Pitcher of the Year. She went on to play at Northwest Mississippi before continuing her education at Delta State and later Vanderbilt. 

Kimes was in the circle for TRA’s three victories in Murfreesboro that week 10 years ago. On May 24, 2011, the Lady Rebels outlasted Davidson Academy 2-0 to advance to the Semifinals. On May 26, TRA found ways to beat USJ 3-1 to reach the championship round. 

TRA History was made the following day with Kimes in the middle of the dog pile. 

“I just went out there and did my thing,” she recalled. “It was no pressure. I’ve played the game for 18 years. I’m thankful for the time I did have out there doing what I love.”

KImes said she loves playing tribute to the ones who paved the way for her like Sterling and a smile comes to her face reading about the ones who followed her like Needham, Rachel Whitley and Charli Rice. 

And before heading home to enjoy the weekend with her family before leaving for Nashville, Kimes had a message for her old Skipper.

“Coach, I really hope that you get well soon. Lots of prayers for you,” she concluded. “Your love ones can’t wait to see out here again someday. We’re all rooting for you.”