Montgomery Academy has championship-caliber sports in every girls’ sport except softball.
New athletic director Robert Johnson would like to add that sport to the list as well.
Johnson announced earlier this week he wanted to establish a varsity softball program at the school and hired former Ole Miss assistant softball coach Damon Haecker to accomplish that goal.
“We’ve got to get the girls out there, get them excited about it,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we can start with the young girls and move up. We’re looking for seventh through 12th grade girls to play.”
Montgomery Academy has tried to establish a junior varsity softball team on several occasions, most recently in 2018, but has been unsuccessful at generating enough interest in the school to transition the junior varsity team over to the varsity level.
“I started a travel baseball organization out of Auburn, from 9U to 16U,” Haecker said. “But it’s nothing like high school softball and starting an entire program. I think the biggest thing with me is getting people out that might be sitting out or just doing the travel ball route for softball. High school is less a priority and the recruiting focus is going to be on travel ball, either on the baseball or softball circuit, so it’s really about getting people out and getting them comfortable in the program.
“Once you start creating a winning season and get to the playoffs, you build that tradition. But it’s about starting that process and giving quality coaching, the quality experience.”
Haecker, a native of Altamonte Springs, Fla., was recruited to play baseball at Auburn by John Pawlowski, broke into the starting lineup as a freshman under Sunny Golloway and finished his career for Butch Thompson. Along the way, he started at all eight non-pitching positions for the Tigers, actually starting at four different positions on Opening Day from 2016-19.
He coached a summer-league college team and formed a travel ball organization in the Auburn-Opelika area before working with Johnson in 2019 as a baseball and football coach at Lee-Scott Academy. After getting married to former Shorter University softball coach Danielle Brewer last year, he was hired by Ole Miss interim softball coach Reuben Felix in January to serve as the Rebels’ hitting coach, where he made immediate strides with the offense.
“I got a call from the interim head coach at Ole Miss to start in the spring,” Haecker said. “I went over there and did that, but they didn’t retain us. At the time, it was a good time for me to come back to Auburn – my wife and I had our first child in January – and with corona and the college softball schedule, I wasn’t around a ton.
“So I called Robert right away. We started talking on it and it kind of formed from there.”
Haecker went to work immediately as a member of the MA football staff and said he plans to hold fall tryouts for the softball team “just to get that awareness that we are starting something and do want to go somewhere with it that’ll be competitive. You’ve got to get the girls out and get to the varsity level at some point. We’re going to be able to play defense and manufacture runs. But I’ve got to get a pitcher.”
Johnson said he didn’t think starting a softball program would detract from the school’s top girls’ spring sports, tennis and soccer. Both programs have won state championships in seven of the last 10 years and would have been heavy favorites to win in 2020 had the season not been interrupted by coronavirus.
Haecker, meanwhile, will have his work cut out for him as a girls’ coach where competing for championships is expected on an annual basis. The girls’ basketball team has reached the state tournament in five of the last seven seasons and the volleyball team won a state championship for the second consecutive year last fall.
“You’ve got somebody who started for four years at Auburn in baseball, has a wife who is a head softball coach and Damon coached at the SEC level, so I think we’re going to be big-time as far as our staff and getting softball going,” Johnson said.