Thursday, June 5, 2008
Ray new coach at his alma mater
By BARRY BURLESON
Johnny Ray is happy to be back home coaching the sport he loves.
The 1985 graduate of Marshall Academy was recently hired to lead the Patriots on the baseball diamond.
“I’m a proud graduate and I will put everything I have into this being a successful program,” he said. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to get back on the field and coach these kids at Marshall Academy.
“From what I’ve seen, this is one of the best collections of athletes, over several classes, that’s ever been here. I expect to have a lot of success for several years.”
Ray lettered in four sports at MA - baseball, basketball, football and track. He won several conference and state awards in athletics. His senior year the Patriots won district championships in baseball, basketball and football.
He then played baseball at Northwest Community College two years and Delta State University two years before signing with the Cincinnati Reds. The right-handed pitcher played five years in the Reds’ organization, advancing as high as Double-A. He won 16 games one year and at one time was one of the top 200 major league prospects. His mound record over five years was 48-29.
But shoulder surgery put an end to his baseball career.
“I was in rehab, and I knew it was time to hang it up,” Ray said.
He returned to Marshall County from 1993-98, working at the family business Marshall County Lumber and later Farr (now Parker-Hannifin). He also helped coach at MA a couple of years.
The family - which includes wife Leah, daughter Alexis and son John Wesley – relocated to Olive Branch. He had a successful seven years coaching at Southwest Community College in Memphis, Tenn. He was an assistant there four years and head coach three years (1999 to 2006).
“It was seven of the most successful years the program has had,” Ray said. “They’d never won a region championship and we did that the first year I was the head coach, plus I was able to move kids to the next level.”
He was the 2004 junior college coach of the year in Tennessee.
The family next moved to Florida for a year.
“We started talking about moving back to the area and decided to give Alexis (who loves basketball) an opportunity to come to Marshall Academy,” he said. “We came home and started back a relationship with Marshall Academy.”
Alexis, 17, enrolled at MA last December. She will be senior. John Wesley, 13, will be a seventh grader at Marshall.
Coach Ray attended some baseball games this past season. The Patriots went all the way to the state championship series.
“I saw the talent that was here now and I was familiar with the younger group because my son has competed against a lot of those kids,” he said. “Once I was presented with the job opportunity, I jumped on it.
“Jimmy (Hicks) built the program to where it is, and now it’s up to me to raise the bar.”
He said he won’t promise state championships but he will promise his players will work hard, do things the right way and be disciplined.
“These young men will be held accountable,” Ray said. “They will be taught the game of baseball and the game of life.”
He also plans to upgrade the facilities “to the way they need to be.” That includes reworking the dugouts and enclosing the batting cages for year-around use.
“I’m a baseball guy,” he said. “I’ve been around it all my life. When I rekindled my relationship with Marshall Academy, I realized how much I missed a close-knit community.
“I will work hard and give it all I’ve got. I see a commitment here, and I’m real excited. It’s good to be home.”
The Patriots began a summer schedule this week. They play in the Olive Branch Tournament Thursday-Sunday, June 5-8. MA will host a tournament June 26-29. Other teams will include Byhalia, Center Hill, Hernando and Oxford.
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