BY JACLYN ROSE –
Friday, May 22, 2015, the Mena Ladycat Softball Team made local history by winning the school’s very first 4A State Championship with a 7-3 win over Bauxite. This incredible group of athletes completed their season with a win-loss record of 32-4 and are undefeated in conference and post-season play winning the titles of District Champions, Conference Champions, Regional Champions, and State Champions. The Mena Ladycat Softball Team is led by Mena native, Coach Ray Hunter.
Coach Hunter graduated from Mena High School in 1986, a member of the Mena Bearcat Football Team, however, an injury his senior year kept him from playing in college. Instead, he went to the University of Arkansas and completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Education. After obtaining his degree he moved back to Mena and began his teaching career at Mena High School. During that time he began as an assistant coach for the football team, which he continued for 19 years. At the beginning of his career, Coach Hunter also spent seven years as an assistant coach for the Mena baseball team. In 2000, he became the head coach for the Mena softball team and has continued in that capacity. Currently, Coach Hunter also teaches three subjects for the Mena Alternative Learning Program and coaches golf.
In 1996, Coach Hunter married his wife, Shannon, and they have two sets of twins, Hattie and Anna Beth, born in 1999, and Tate and Jack, born in 2003. “My wife is very supportive of me and my career. I wouldn’t be as successful today if not for her. It takes a lot to be a coach’s wife, I spend a lot of time away from the family and that takes its toll, especially when the children were young. I try to do as much as possible when I’m home,” explained Coach Hunter. “I will say, having a son with special needs, Ray is great with Tate. When he was a baby, I ended up having to take him to the doctor alone and he asked how Ray was with him, he said having a child with special needs is often hard on a dad, especially when it’s a son. But Ray is awesome with Tate. He is an awesome dad,” added Shannon.
One of the reasons a State Championship title this year is so special to Coach Hunter, is that his daughters are part of the team. “It can be tough coaching daughters, this was their first year on the team, but it was great to have my family with me. It was special to be able to share this from the inside out and not just with people outside of my family,” Coach Hunter said.
The Mena Ladycat Softball Team, has an extremely impressive win-loss record, but beyond that, their four losses were all 1-0 losses in timed tournament play. They did not lose a full length game all year. Even more impressive is their run record with Mena outscoring their competition 238 runs to 23 runs. The most runs they gave up in a game all year was three. “This group is special. They worked harder than any group I’ve ever seen and they are always finding different ways to work harder. If they read about it, they want to try it. If a college coach tells them about it, they want to try it. There is a group of them that show up at 5:30 am three days a week to lift weights. They don’t just show up for a two hour practice and go home, they are always working. A lot of these girls have played on successful travel teams most of their lives. Last year all but one of my senior girls went on to play college ball. This year my two starting seniors are going on to play in college, one of them at a division one school. All of my starting junior girls are verbally committed to college. These girls are not just playing to play, but taking it on into the future,” explained Coach Hunter.
“I feel blessed to coach at Mena. I love the school, and I love the town, it’s a great place to coach. I have a great group of parents who enabled those kids to be where they are, we have great fans and lots of support from local businesses. Our family keeps us in Polk County. We love being around our family and our friends. I’ve known most of these girls’ parents since high school and it makes it more special that I get to share this with my high school friends,” said Coach Hunter.