It is hard to find anyone in East Tennessee unaware of the Hiwassee College fate, closing its doors after 170 years. However, it should not be dismissed in memory but remembered for the men and women of character that held it an honor to attend the educational institution. That is something being brought to light in the midst of this darkness by the Hiwassee College baseball team, the Tigers, who refuse to let anyone else write their final chapter.
As the rumors became announcements and the reality could no longer be ignored, the timing could not have been worse for the Tiger baseball team. Thick into their regular season, the news of a permanent closure devastated hearts and minds. “I didn’t have words to encourage them,” said Shane Gardner, Head Coach, “We met as a team and made a commitment to finish strong.” Just shortly before the announcement, coaching staff and team had celebrated the 200th win for Head Coach Shane Gardner, an incredible accomplishment in 8 years leading the program.
Commitment is evident when talking about the Hiwassee College Tiger baseball team, who have been to the NCCAA World Series the last three years. A national championship is the goal sought with determination and fight every season. Now, it’s not just the quest to be the best, it’s the legacy, the way they will be remembered, taking priority.
And so the final chapter for Hiwassee College was written. The closure would happen before the Tiger’s season ended. However, the final chapter of this baseball program, this coach and these players is not even close to complete. They rallied from the emotional burden of circumstances to engage competition, gaining a fifth straight 30-win season and traveling to Oakland City, Indiana, for the Mid-East Regional Tournament. The Tigers finished as region runners-up and were named an “At-Large” selection as No. 4 seed for the NCCAA Baseball World Series, a fourth straight trip to the championship playing field for the Tigers under Head Coach, Shane Gardner.
It is not the “swan song” that is building an historic legacy post the closing of their historic college, it is never losing sight of the goal, it is the never quit competing, it is when all is coming down around you…stay true to your teammates and fight.
It’s more than just baseball, more than just a game. It is honoring the program, the players that came before and the dedication of the coaching staff, parents and community. The last Hiwassee College baseball team will be remembered for doing things right on the field and for doing things right off the field. The 2019 Hiwassee College baseball team and coaches are forever the pride of Monroe County, the very best of East Tennessee. We salute the Tigers!