Russ and Heidi Pratt started the Yalobusha Giants baseball organization in 2007 with the simple goal of teaching the game of baseball to young kids in the Oxford Lafayette community.
In a short period of time, parents began to call him from other parts of north Mississippi to ask about their kid playing for one of his teams. As these teams grew in number, one problem Coach Pratt encountered, like all competitive programs, was adding quality coaches for the demand of players showing interest in the Yalobusha Giants philosophy.
“There is too much daddy ball in competitive sports,” said Pratt. “We want players and parents who want their kids to be the best for the team, not the best on the team.”
Coach Pratt may have accomplished more by getting and keeping quality coaches than by winning Mississippi’s only USSSA Elite 32 tournament at Disney World in Orlando, Florida last summer. Initially, Jason Jenkins and Greg Varner joined Pratt as they had common goals and a similar baseball philosophy. These coaches, however, could only coach so many teams. Different age groups played in different locations. While they could practice the teams together, they were limited by the number of games they could attend at a certain tournament.
Across the Yalobusha Giants Organization there are coaches who have played at all levels of college baseball (SEC, PAC-12, JUCO), have coached at every level of baseball (youth-professional) and have served as professional scouts. These coaches have played in the largest baseball tournaments in the country, even back to the days of the Connie Mack World Series against players like Ken Griffey, Jr.
Over the years, the Giants added coaches and lost coaches, however, Coach Pratt is confident, the Yalobusha Giants organization has compiled a roster of coaches unlike any other in the area. “We are very fortunate to have dedicated coaches with experience in college and professional baseball. The Giants now have coaches with college experience associated with all 10 teams.
And the best part is none of the players pay for the coaching.
None of the players pay for the coaching? Yes, that is right. One of the coaching philosophies Coach Pratt has is the coaching is free for the kids. Now, you may have heard of programs in Dallas, Atlanta, or even Memphis, charging $2,500 per kid per season or even $2,500 per month. Coaching fees and facility fees are a great deterrent for competitive sports today.
“Many parents feel pressured to pay these amounts with the notion they are getting better instruction.” Coach Pratt disagrees. “We believe it takes away from the purity of the game.”
Coaches Pratt, Jenkins, Wade, Farese, Williams, Herron, Goulding, Thornton, Drummiller, Dean, Overby, Mungle, Prosek, Manning, Long, Sanders, Gentry, Buffkin, Burt, Alderman, and Holeman agree with this coaching philosophy and commit many hours every week instructing kids the game of baseball.
The Yalobusha Giants practice at the Oxford Lafayette Sportsplex. Nearly every night of the week, there are teams practicing, players hitting and pitching, instruction from a coach to his players and even players who are not on his team. “Each coach has valuable information to share with these kids. We have an understanding among coaches to provide instruction to everyone in our program. Kids who are willing to work continue to get better,” added Pratt.
“We understand some kids and parents want to get additional hitting or pitching instruction,” said Pratt. “That additional work is encouraged, but our coaches are coaching for the love of the game and the satisfaction of seeing these kids improve their game of baseball.”
This unique coaching philosophy is benefitting kids from the Oxford Lafayette area as well as other areas in north Mississippi. This philosophy was most recently made obvious in the 2015 USSSA Disney Elite tournament. The Yalobusha Giants coaches took 10 kids from north Mississippi to Orlando, Florida and became the first team from Mississippi and Tennessee to win the Disney Elite 32. They not only competed with teams from Florida, Texas, and California, but beat these teams with large budgets and paid coaches. Some of the teams had budgets over $100,000 per team. Competitive sports have certainly changed over the last 20-30 years, but not for all organizations. The Yalobusha Giants continue to do things through hard work and dedicated volunteer coaches. Our community should be grateful.
Pratt finished by saying, “As our program grows, our philosophy of adding coaches with the core goals of our program will determine our success. As long as we keep this in mind, we should continue to prosper. It should be exciting to see how these kids grow in the coming years.”