(T-G Photo by Gary Johnson)
Coach Naron lost a long and hard fought battle with diabetes and cirrhosis on Sept. 11.
For those of us who had the great opportunity to play for Coach Naron, that was a sad day.
Naron coached baseball in this community for 45 years, including American Legion for 30 years and Babe Ruth for 24.
In those 24 years coaching in Babe Ruth his teams won 17 championships.
That's unheard of and I challenge anyone to ever match that feat. The draft system is designed for that not to happen.
He had the unique ability that makes a great coach in any sport....the ability to coach a player up. He could make the most of less talent that any coach I know. His knowledge and work ethic helped along the way as well.
I have great memories of playing for Naron when he coached Lions in Babe Ruth back in the late 70's. In my three seasons, we advanced to the championship twice and won it my 15-year-old year.
He was more than a coach to his players; he was a mentor that made us better young men.
Before his death, I had a special opportunity to spend a little time with Coach Naron at his home.
Former Golden Eagle and American Legion Post 23 player Chase Dial signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Volunteer State and wanted Coach Naron to be in his signing picture.
When I was contacted about Chase signing with Volunteer State, he wanted his signing story to be more of a tribute to Coach Naron and all the lives he's touched over the years rather than a personal story about himself.
What a true and unselfish gesture that was by Chase. That's just an example of the impact Coach Naron had on so many young athletes.
While waiting for Chase to show up for his signing picture at Coach Naron's house, Chase's dad, Bryan Dial, Post 23 coaches Roy Turner and Randall Harvey and I got to share some time with Coach Naron and his wife Kay.
All we talked about was baseball and a lot of fond memories we each had. It was amazing all the stories with exact details that Coach Naron could remember.
I think I can speak for all of us. That time together with him was therapy for our souls.
The success of Post 23 this past summer in winning the Tennessee Senior American Legion State Tournament was an ending that a Hollywood screenwriter could not have scripted.
Naron was unable to do any coaching on the field but his presence was felt much more than if he had been in the dugout or a coach's box.
(T-G File Photo by Danny Parker)
"We all knew that Coach Naron's health was really bad and that this was probably going to be his last year to coach so we played with a little more intensity when it really counted to help win the state for him," Chase said. "I really wanted that for him and I know there was a lot more emotion brought to the game by me because I wanted us to win this for him more than for us. He gave so much to all the players he coached and it's a great feeling to know that I had a part in giving something back to him."
Coach Naron arrived in the seventh inning of the championship game and was able to witness the victory celebration after the game.
It's ironic that Bryan played on Naron's first American Legion team and Chase played on his last.
Chase has been participating in fall practice at Vol State and admits that it's a challenging experience.
"You really have to bring your "A" game every day. The practices are really tough then you come in and have to focus on your school work," Chase said. "No one can really explain it until you experience it. The biggest thing that I've learned is that if you really want something you have to work on it day after day."
-- Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.