By Chad Dixon
Smiths Station softball took a huge leap in 2018 letting the state know it is indeed a title contender. The Lady Panthers finished third in the state tournament after sweeping through the Class 7A Area 4 tournament. The man steering the ship, Head Coach Matt Stonbraker, has been named the Softball Coach of the Year by the Alabama Sportswriters Association.
Stonbraker took over the head coaching position for the Lady Panthers in 2013 and since then has left an indelible mark on his players, his coaching staff and the softball program.
“I cannot even begin to describe the mark he has left on me. He is someone that supports and encourages all of the players to be the best they can be on and off of the field,” said senior first baseman Olivia Sinquefield.
“Personally, he has been someone that has always calmed me down and made sure I knew someone believed in me. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award because he’s not your typical coach. He puts each one of us first, and would do anything for us. Playing for him has been one of the many highlights of my softball career and I’m going to miss him.”
Assistant Varsity Coach Adam Johnson has coached with Stonbraker on the Smiths Station softball and football teams for several seasons. He credits his passion and commitment for his success.
“Coach Stonbraker is one of those once-in-a-lifetime guys. Society has created the popular belief that self is more important than the whole. ‘Stoney’ is antithesis of this. This is evident in every facet of his life. It can be seen in his faith, in his commitment to his family and in his passion for the program. I have been fortunate to work with him, in some capacity, for nearly 15 years. I have seen him clock countless hours on and off the field doing the most any single person could do to grow our program. I have seen him shed tears looking at the aftermath from a tornado that shredded the hard work that so many parents and coaches had put in. I then saw him put together a plan to make our program even better,” Johnson stated.
Stonbraker identified early on that his 2017-2018 team could be a difference maker. Junior centerfielder Lexi Webb is inspired to have him as a coach.
“I can’t even put into words how deserving Coach was for this award. He personally has told all of us since we were in seventh and eighth grade that this was a special team. Little did he know that we were going to make a run like we did this year at State. We were the underdogs but he never stopped telling us how much better we were than everyone else. He has taught us that coming together as a family was the ultimate goal. Without him we wouldn’t have made it as far as we had. (I am) so proud and thankful for having such an inspirational coach for all these years,” Webb said.
Smiths Station had three softball players sign college scholarships this season. Third baseman Sydney Belcher is one of the three.
“I am definitely very proud of Coach Stonbraker and all we accomplished this year! He deserves this more than anyone I know,” Belcher said.
“He is a good coach but what people don’t know is that he’s an even better person. I thank him for everything he has done for me and always caring about each and every one of his players. He makes sure that he has a personal relationship with all of his players. He’s such a kind and compassionate person and he’s one of the coaches that have always had my back through thick and thin. I’m gonna miss him but he’ll always be one of my favorite coaches. I thank him for all he’s done. He’s very deserving of this huge award!”
Brian Nelson has also coached with Stonbraker on the softball and football teams. He advised that Stonbraker is everything a leader should be.
“Matt is the epitome of a selfless and servant leader. When people call to congratulate he says ‘I’m surrounded by great coaches, players and parents’. As a staff, we have had countless conversations about decisions. He values not only the coaches input but the players. He empowers all of us. That dude works at that facility all of the time. He’s battled through some pretty tough adversity; he’s embraced the cultural approach to coaching and mentoring that’s been such a huge part of our success. He’s always learning, reading and asking us questions and opinions. It’s his fault I like to talk so much,” Nelson added.
Pitcher Breanna Cameron and Belcher received honorable mentions from the ASWA in Class 7A. Cameron will continue her softball career at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, while Belcher is signed to play at Anderson University.