Horne dedicates time and effort to softball program

Published 12:24 am Thursday, March 25, 2010

FERRIDAY — Twelve years ago, Miranda Smith was too late in signing up to play in the Dixie Ponytails 12-year-old summer softball league.

That’s when Rut Horne, coach for the 16- to 18-year-old team, offered to let her play under his tutelage.

“I told her mom she could play with the big girls, the Dixie Debs,” Horne said. “I told her I’d practice her every day. I couldn’t promise she’d pitch an inning, but I did promise she’d get her work in.”

From that point forward, a teacher-pupil relationship began that resulted in Smith excelling on the diamond. And that all started, Horne said, when she was forced to grow up quickly two games into her first season under Horne’s wing.

“In the second game, our second baseman broke her ankle, so Miranda started at second from there on out,” Horne said.

And despite not getting any guarantees going in, Smith did get the chance to pitch — which was quite a learning experience, Smith said.

“We were playing Wisner, and in the first inning, I either hit or walked the first 10 batters,” Smith said. “The crowd was booing, and I was miserable and crying. I looked over at him, and he said, ‘You’re not coming out until you can get three outs.’”

She eventually did, and only got better from there, Horne said.

“I didn’t pull her because I knew she could do it. In practice, she could throw strikes, she just had stage fright.”

The experience also had long-term effects on her mindset whenever she took the mound, Smith said.

“It was an opportunity to learn a lesson and build up confidence,” Smith said. “By the time I was 17 or 18, I was confident when I got on the mound.”

Horne’s main legacy in Smith’s development as a pitcher was teaching her the rise ball, a pitch that helped her lead Vidalia High School to the Class 2A state championship in 2003, and earned her an athletic scholarship to the University of Louisiana Monroe.

“Once I learned the rise ball, that was it,” Smith said. “And it wasn’t easy. A lot of girls these days, they want results without putting the work in. It takes so many hours and so many pitches (thrown).”

And Horne said there’s a motto he has because of that.

“Our saying was, if the rise ball were easy, everyone would do it,” Horne said.

Smith is just one of many athletes Horne has coached that he’s had a profound impact on. Charles Devening, whose two daughters, Mollie and Kimble, have played for Horne in the Dixie Belles league, said the time he’s put into developing young ladies is commendable.

“He’s definitely one of the community’s unsung heroes,” Charles Devening said. “He’s taken a lot of kids under his wing and helps make them a lot better at the game of softball. I’ve seen people he taught 10 or 15 years ago come back and help him in practice, so I know it meant a lot to them.”

Kimble Devening said Horne’s coaching has allowed her to get better at doing small ball techniques like bunting and dragging.

“He’s really dedicated to what he does,” Kimble Devening said. “He wants you to be a better player.”

Ginny Daggett, who’s also been coached by Horne, said Horne is much more than a coach to his players.

“We don’t look at him as a coach, but as a grandfather,” Ginny Daggett said. “We call him ‘Paw Paw,’ because that’s what he is to us.

“It’s easy playing for him, because he never says anything negative. He’s just an all-around great individual.”

Ginny Daggett’s mother, Penny Daggett, said it’s amazing that Horne does so much work with softball players despite not having any children who play.

“He has several sons who have grown up, but no daughters,” Penny Daggett said. “He has no horse in the race. To put the hours in that he has, when he doesn’t get compensated, it just shows how much he loves the game.”

And love of the game isn’t the only reason he does it, Horne said.

“There’s nothing better than seeing girls you’ve worked with have success,” Horne said. “That gives you chill bumps.”