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Tommy Locke never played organized high school sports, but his love for them, especially softball, led to a career of helping as a coach and team sponsor that was rewarded when he was named to the Amateur Softball Association’s Hall of Fame this fall.
Locke gives all the credit for the honor to the people with whom he associated over the past 30 years.
One of those people, David Brown, said Locke was successful as a coach and sponsor because he was completely unselfish.
“A lot of times, a coach will build a team around himself or will form a team with a certain agenda in mind,” Brown said. “Tommy was never about himself playing; instead he was about being a good coach and caring about the people he coached.”
A 1976 LaRue County High School graduate, Locke first became an avid fan of softball two years after graduation when he watched some of his friends play slow-pitch ball for Rice’s Sporting Goods, a Buffalo business owned by Glen Rice.
“As I watched several of them Glen, Junior Skaggs, Jerry Price, Jerry Smith and others play, I noticed that not only were they very talented players, but also they were a good bunch of people,” Locke recalled.
In 1982, his business, South Dixie Automotive, took over sponsoring the team. Although he at the time had no idea how long it would last, his sponsorship and coaching continued through 2001.
During those years, his teams claimed 10 state championship titles, including back-to back wins.
“I had good help in picking players through assistant coaches Richard ‘Willie’ Thomas and Billy Cann,” he offered.
Still, not all years produced crowns.
“We didn’t have any losing seasons, but we had two seasons when we flirted with losing,” he said. His teams placed fourth in 1988 and were runners-up in 1989 and 1990.
“For us, 1991 was not a good year during the season, as we finished 33-29, but we turned right around and won the state that year,” he observed. “I think we had a mixture of good defense and offense and had a lot of ‘pop’ in the lineup.
“For instance, I had Junior Skaggs, a heck of a hitter who could place the ball where he wanted it, and David Brown and others who were power hitters who could blast it over the fence,” he explained.
He declined to list all his best hitters for fear of omission, but included Billy Milby, Barry Barnes and Demond Thomas among the top ones.
His 1990 team finished third in the World Series at Alton, Ill., and his 1993 squad took home the national crown.
“The people on the teams I coached made me stay with the sport,” Locke offered. “We got to be like family where everyone talked team and not individuals.” That philosophy caused Locke to turn down an offer when he was given the opportunity to merge with a Louisville team that included several high-powered players that possessed strong egos.
“Willie and I talked about it, and he said that he just didn’t think it would work, that we should just do it the ‘South Dixie way,’ so I turned down the offer, and that was the same year we won the state championship,” Locke recalled. “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team.’”
So many players, between 125 to 150, attended a reunion three years ago that Locke formed another idea. He coordinated a golf scramble at LaRue County Golf Course that raised more than $2,000 to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and WHAS Crusade for Children last month.
Several of his former players surprised him during a Hawks’ home football game this fall by announcing his Hall of Fame induction.
Locke, who sold his auto parts business several years ago and is self-employed in Upton, noted, “I’m humbled by the honor, but these players I coached ought to be in it before me.”