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Wagner’s legacy at Boone about more than just winning

When Rick Wagner announced last month that 2014 would be his final season as the head softball coach at Daniel Boone, he left in his wake a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.
Wagner, a staple in Boone athletics for the better part of two decades, has presided over the school’s most successful sports program for the past 12 years, elevating Lady Blazer softball to the pinnacle of high school athletics statewide.
With his calm and collected demeanor, foreign to the likes of most others in his profession, Wagner built Daniel Boone softball from a struggling program in a weak conference, to a feared powerhouse recognized throughout the state.
He compiled a record of 344-178 during his tenure, captured eight district tournament championships, appeared in multiple state sectional contests, and took the Lady Blazers to two state tournaments, finishing as state runner-up in 2012.
A more impressive body of work would be hard found.
Yet, just two years removed from a second place finish at the state tournament and only a year after another state sectional appearance, Wagner decided the time had come to step away from the profession he loved and the program he built.
“There were some things that happened over the past couple of months that just sparked something in my brain that the time had come,” Wagner said. “We were playing in a tournament earlier this season and one of the girls from the opposing team made a boneheaded play and her coach just chewed her out. I have done that before, but at this point in my life, I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Before Wagner’s decision was announced, he says he tried to convince himself that he was making a mistake, how could he step away now, especially after all the recent success?
“I step back and try to convince myself that I was making a mistake, but it kept coming back that I was doing the right thing,” Wagner said.
“It is going to be interesting when spring starts to see how I feel, how much I miss it, but for this program, this is the right move. I did not want to be the person who left because all of the good players are leaving, but we have good players coming back, and I think the program is in really good shape.”
Prior to taking the position 12 years ago, Wagner had never coached girls before and had not really thought about it, but while out mowing his yard, a conversation with a player’s parent changed all that.
“I was out mowing my yard and a parent came by and we started talking; the next thing I knew, he asked if I would be interested in coaching softball.”
Wagner admits that he had never even watched a full softball game and thought the parent was kidding about his coaching girls’ softball.
“At the end of our conversation I asked if he was serious,” Wagner said. “I started thinking about it, and thought it would definitely be a challenge.”
Soon after he met with the athletic director at the time, Tim Campbell, who told him if he wanted the job, he could have it.
“So that was the great start to me coaching softball. I was out mowing the yard.”
In his first season at a tournament in Chattanooga playing against several of the state’s elite teams, Wagner fully realized the challenge that lay ahead.
“We actually went 0-4, and as a matter of fact, we only had one runner at third base during the whole tournament,” Wagner said. “My thought then was ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ I realized how strong some of the softball programs in the state were, and the softball in this area just wasn’t that competitive. I really thought that no one from the Tri-Cities would ever be able to compete for a state championship.”
Two years later, Boone was playing in the state sectionals and Wagner says it was the first time he realized that the Lady Blazers could compete with the state’s best.
“After the 2005 season, I knew we had at least made progress. Then 2010 rolls around and we make our first trip to Murfreesboro,” he said.
“I thought that will probably be the last time any Daniel Boone softball team will be down there, and next thing I know, we are down there again. I’m proud that the program is competitive statewide. Now when we go somewhere everyone recognizes our name, and as a coach that makes you proud.”
Despite all that Boone softball accomplished under Wagner’s direction, he remains humble when reflecting on the enormity of their success, giving credit to his players, his staff and the support of the administration.
Wagner says what he will miss most in stepping away from coaching is the relationships coaching helped to form.
“I’m going to miss the player—coach relationship and being with my assistant coaches,” Wagner said. “I don’t think people understand how much fun we have, they don’t see what is behind the scenes, the relationships that form and the interactions that we have, I’ll miss that most of all.”
Wagner says if his coaching tenure is to be remembered most for anything, it’s not just the success, or the wins, but doing all of it the right way.
“I think there is a way to make it fun and still be highly competitive,” Wagner said. “I think our staff figured out how to do that. We laughed a lot, we cried, we were very passionate, and I’m more proud of the fact everyone realized that you can’t play this game and be mad at yourself all the time. At the plate, you are going to fail more than you succeed. As coaches and players, we are going to make mistakes, but what matters is how we responded to them. We knew we could overcome adversity.”
Although Wagner won’t rule out coaching again in the future, he says if this is indeed the end of his coaching career, he is proud of the program he helped establish, the players he coached, and of what he left behind.
“If this was my last coaching stop and my name is going to be attached to a program, I’m very proud that it is attached to this one.”