July 1, 2014 10:01:35 AM
Haley Tutor thought the University of Alabama was the place for her.
As right as it felt for Tutor to continue her education in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the former New Hope High School and East Mississippi Community College standout realized it was difficult to stop playing softball, a sport she excelled in for many years.
But the more Tutor talked with her friend, Sydney Morgan, she started to think softball might have a place in her life again. Late last year, Morgan tried to convince Tutor she could still play softball at her school, the University of Arkansas at Monticello, a Division II school that plays in the Great American Conference. Tutor played along with her friend, but didn't believe the timing was right to deviate from the course she had plotted out for the next year and a half at Alabama to play softball again.
It wasn't until Tutor visited Morgan at Arkansas Monticello that a plan started to take shape. On campus to watch Morgan's boyfriend, former Heritage Academy standout Austin Braddock, play baseball, Tutor met the Arkansas Monticello athletic director and inquired about the possibility of playing softball at the school. That same night, she ran into some senior members of the Arkansas Monticello softball team who encouraged her to try out for the team. Arkansas Monticello coach Alvy Early then contacted Tutor to see if they could arrange a time for her to come to the school for a tryout. After some initial problems finding a time to get together, Tutor finally earned her chance to try out and convinced Early she deserved a spot on the 2014-15 squad. The half-hour individual tryout wasn't what Tutor expected, but she worked through the nerves to impress the man who will be her next coach.
"I get to play again," said Tutor, who will walk on to the team. "That sounds good to me."
Tutor said everything that took place on her visit to see Morgan made it easier to believe things were happening for a reason. Taking that step back to softball, though, was a big one and she realized she couldn't pass up an opportunity to go to a smaller school that made her feel more comfortable, to play softball, to attend a school where she has friends, and to be a part of another softball family.
"All year at Alabama, I wished I had my teammates and I wished I was doing something," Tutor said. "I had to go work and it wasn't what I wanted it to be like."
Tutor hit .280 in 33 games as a freshman at EMCC in 2012. She had 23 hits, 15 RBIs, and scored 17 runs. In 2013, she was one of the team leaders (among regulars) in several offensive categories. She was second in batting average (.375) and hits (51), first in runs (35) and third in doubles (nine) and RBIs (27). She was named Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges All-State First Team as a sophomore and graduated from EMCC as an NJCAA All-Academic Student-Athlete (exemplary honors) with a 3.72 cumulative grade-point average.
Still, Tutor elected to stop playing softball and attend Alabama. But she said the size of the school and the student body, not having a softball team as a support system, and the fact that she missed playing the sport contributed to her decision to return to the game. Once she decided she wanted to play softball again, Tutor admitted she had to convince her mother, Pam, and her step father, Roger Short, changing schools was the best thing to do.
"She wants to play," said Short, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority and someone who is actively involved in the Amateur Softball Association at the local, state, regional, and national levels. "It's still in her blood is the easiest way to put it. I would have loved to have seen her get a degree from the University of Alabama. ... From all of the research we have done Arkansas Monticello is a good school, so she is still going to get a good education, and we are happy for her."
Short said neither he nor his wife ever pushed Haley to play softball and that she worked hard to help make the most of the opportunity. He said the latest twist in Tutor's softball career is similar to what happened at the end of her high school career. Tutor didn't play fast-pitch softball as a senior at New Hope High but re-discovered her passion for the game after winning the PopStar Award as the state's top slow-pitch softball player. He said Haley, who was going to attend Itawamba C.C., contacted the coaches at EMCC and earned a chance to continue her career in Scooba.
Kyndall White was in her first season as coach at EMCC when Tutor was a sophomore at the school. She said Monday she wasn't surprised Tutor has returned to the sport.
"Haley was a great player," White said. "She was kind of an energy-setter for us in the leadoff position. Haley really came in with an open mind and was excited about the opportunity to continue playing softball at Scooba. She did great things for us as a leader on and off the field. ... She stepped up in a huge way. She helped us as coaches get our feet wet that first year. ... She was a joy to coach that first season as a head coach. She was great for our team and for us as coaches, and did an awesome job."
White worked with Tutor to help get some of the rust off her game prior to her tryout at Arkansas Monticello. She said Tutor practiced her defense in the outfield, went through timed work on the bases, and took plenty of swings to get her timing down. White said it was easy to see Tutor hadn't lost a lot of the skill that helped make her an impact player for the Lady Lions in 2013. She said she is excited Tutor has a chance to get back on the field because she is confident she can accomplish big things.
"I think if Haley didn't want to move on right after her sophomore season she could have gone on and played at a lot of places," White said. "She is a great leader and a great kid. She learns quickly and is very respectful. She is just a really good player. She can play in the outfield and be in the leadoff position or be in a No. 3 or a No. 4 hole as a power hitter. She has a lot of good qualities at the plate and she has a strong arm. ... She is going to be a good asset for that team."
Tutor hit .597 with 18 doubles and two home runs to lead New Hope High to the Class 5A slow-pitch state title in 2010. She also had a .766 slugging percentage, 42 RBIs, and a .984 fielding percentage, and played an integral role in the program's fourth state championship in a row. Tutor hopes she can regain that form this summer as she works to complete courses so she will be able to continue the required progress toward her degree to meet NCAA transfer rules. She said she hopes to be a senior academically and to have two years of athletic eligibility remaining when she arrives at Arkansas Monticello in August.
"I am so lucky because EMCC gave me an opportunity because not too many people can quit (playing softball) their senior year and get a scholarship," Tutor said. "Here I am again and I get to play again. I am lucky, and I am thankful for it, too."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.