Crockett's Lingerfelt made it through a year of challenges

Douglas Fritz • Updated Jun 15, 2018 at 7:39 PM

If Nick Lingerfelt had been looking at a future-telling dry-erase board last summer with a line down the middle — “less” on the left and “more” on the right — he perhaps could have braced for a staggering challenge in his first year at David Crockett High School.

Included on the “less” side would have been money, baseball wins, time with family. The “more” column would have housed responsibility, number of sports coached, challenges and long days.

Things started to go haywire in the fall. The Pioneers suspended head football coach Gerald Sensabaugh, and before the season was over Lingerfelt was head coach — guiding the team through a playoff loss.

“I felt like God led me here,” said Lingerfelt. “I thought, ‘Is this what God wanted me here for?’ But I didn’t come here to be the football coach.

“People said I was working with one side of the separation, but there was never a hidden agenda. I came here to be the baseball coach.”

The sacrifices

Lingerfelt knew from the outset he was going to face financial challenges.

“You think about dreams and what you want to become, but money is money,” said Lingerfelt. “People don’t realize how comfortable they get with money. Moving to Washington County’s school system from Dobyns-Bennett, it was a pay cut.”

Also, the Lingerfelt crew remained in Colonial Heights, meaning the 30-minute drive to Jonesborough would add to the monthly fuel bill.

With two young daughters — Kendall, 10, and Rory, 5 — Lingerfelt and his wife, Ashleigh, had to find a few corners to cut. One thing that didn’t survive the chopping block was cable television.

“We talked about what we could live without,” said Lingerfelt. “We experimented with Netflix and did a few things like that to allow them to be kids. We found ourselves on our phones and iPads more. I can’t say enough about what my wife and family gave up to give me this opportunity.”

Recovering from football

“The biggest hurdle for me as a 38-year-old Christian man was being able to explain that situation to the athletes,” said Lingerfelt. “Everybody was torn. It was almost as if the kids had to pick a side, which is not fair to the kids.

“There are a lot of great kids in Jonesborough, and a lot of great adults. I had to stop what I was doing baseball-wise, and my kids understood. They were very supportive, and the assistant coaches did a fantastic job.”

The desire to win

Lingerfelt came by success the old-fashioned way, learning from one of the best in former Unicoi County head coach Charlie Baxter.

One summer that stood out in Lingerfelt’s mind was the year before his senior season with the Blue Devils.

“We had only two guys coming back,” said Lingerfelt. “Coach Baxter asked us if we wanted to achieve reaching the state tournament. He told us if we wanted to achieve it, this was what we had to do. We played 52 games that summer. I honestly believe if we hadn’t played that many games, we wouldn’t have made it back to the state tournament. We beat teams we shouldn’t have beaten. That’s where I started to feel so strongly about the team concept.

“Coaching is different these days. I know when Coach Baxter told me to do something, I would do anything to please that man. I felt so strongly about what he stood for. I knew the success he had. If he told me to eat grass to be a better hitter, I would eat grass.

“But it’s a new generation of kids. The team concept is difficult to get them to buy into. (Science Hill coach) Ryan Edwards talked about his team jelling as a family this year, and that’s why they achieved the things they did. (D-B coach) Ryan Wagner could say the same about his 2017 team. Both of those teams bought into the family concept.”

Building blocks

Before he coached a game at Crockett, Lingerfelt made a list of things he wanted to accomplish. Boxes that were checked included a new practice infield for the junior varsity and freshmen, a new 20-player locker room for the varsity, an update of the JV locker room, an update of the indoor hitting area, and a new coaches’ office.

“We worked hard to do those things,” said Lingerfelt. “It was something the kids could take pride in. I tried to come here and help build something I felt could be done.”

The agony of defeat

Crockett went 9-22 this season, losing an astounding 15 games by just one run. Counting the 0-3 mark in football, Lingerfelt acknowledged his record at 9-25 for the year.

“I had never been through a 9-25 season,” said Lingerfelt. “Our record was definitely not what I wanted it to be. To go from Unicoi where we competed for state championships to D-B competing at a high level, and to come to Crockett and experience a rebuilding process, it was a very big learning curve because I’m impatient.

“I’m the world’s worst, so my wife and I prayed for patience. It was still a struggle. The devil knows what will get you, and a lot of things got me.”

Understanding struggles

Lingerfelt said he has no problem feeling empathy for kids who don’t have as much as others.

“You talk about travel ball,” said Lingerfelt. “I would have been one of those kids who wouldn’t have had the financial means to play on a travel-ball team. I want to give kids who can’t afford it the same opportunity I had, to play with the high school team.”

No runner-up

There is no participation-trophy mentality with Lingerfelt.

“We won the state championship when I was a sophomore,” said Lingerfelt. “When I was a senior in 1997, I was the losing pitcher in the state championship game. To me there’s not a second place. There is only the ultimate prize and ultimate goal. And as a Christian the ultimate goal is eternal life in heaven. I’m an all-or-nothing guy.

“It makes it tough because I want to be the best teacher and best coach I can be. And I still want to be the best husband and best father. It has been tough to find a good balance.”

Looking forward

Lingerfelt said he plans to take a close look at things this summer.

“I reevaluate my life at the end of every season,” said Lingerfelt. “We will go on vacation, hopefully get away, and reevaluate everything.”

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