CHAPMANVILLE — Seven years ago was an emotional time for the students, faculty, athletes and coaches at Harts High School.
With the impending closure of the school and the opening of the brand new Chapmanville Regional High School, Harts students in grades 9-12 would no longer have a local school to go to.
Back in May 2006 with the school year about to end there was one Harts sports team left standing.
The Harts High School girls’ softball team.
After an emotional 5-2 win in eight innings over Man in the Class A regional championship game at Buffalo, the Lady Lions would be heading to the state tournament at Vienna one last time.
Leading the charge for Harts was a young 15-year-old freshman pitcher by the name of Andi Williamson.
Odell Dingess, currently the head basketball coach at Harts Middle School, was the coach of the Harts softball team that year.
Dingess said it was an emotional run.
Harts, led by Williamson’s pitching, would fight its way out of the loser’s bracket to advance all the way to the Class A state championship game where the Lady Lions fell 1-0 to Wheeling Central in an epic final.
Williamson went on to a brilliant prep career at Chapmanville Regional, leading the Lady Tigers to Class AA state championships in 2007 and 2009 and then went on to a record-breaking Division I career at Marshall University before turning pro earlier in the month with the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch women’s softball team.
Dingess said even back in 2006 he saw the potential in Williamson’s strong arm.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Dingess, taking time out from Allan Hatcher’s basketball camp on Tuesday where he was helping out. “Her dad played at Marshall. A lot of athletes here have set the bar high. Scott Frye went to Concord and Andy Paul played three years at Marshall. Andi upped that bar. She put it up there. With her accomplishments it’s going to be hard to top. It makes me feel good to be a small part of it.”
After leading Chapmanville Regional to the 2009 state title and a 31-3 record, Williamson initially took her game to the University of Tennessee but left for Marshall after her freshman year after only making a handful of appearances within the circle and only pitching five innings.
“I kind of felt like Tennessee let her down. I really did. I don’t think Tennessee saw what she had and seen what she was,” Dingess said.
To turn pro, Williamson joins a very elite and select club.
Not many athletes in the area have had the chance to be a professional in any sport. It is not known if any other area female athlete has been a pro athlete before Williamson.
“You just don’t see it,” Dingess said. “How many athletes in southern West Virginia get the chance to turn pro in any sport male or female?”
Dingess said he has fond memories of the 2006 Harts softball team.
In addition to Williamson, Harts had three other talented freshmen team members, including infielder Tiffani Hale, infielder/outfielder Lauren McCann and catcher Poppy Ramey. All four ended up starting for Chapmanville after Harts closed its doors.
Hale started at first base for Coach Ronnie Ooten’s Chapmanville Lady Tigers, while Ramey started at catcher. McCann started at both second base and in the outfield.
All four Harts players were huge in the Lady Tigers’ success from 2007-09.
The ‘09 Chapmanville Lady Tigers are regarded as the best softball team the school has ever fielded.
Williamson ended up being named both the Gatorade Player of the Year and the West Virginia Sports Writers Association Player of the Year. She ended up with an unheard of 0.09 ERA. During the season she broke a single game state record with 33 strikeouts in a 3-1 victory at rival Logan in marathon of a game which went 13 innings and lasted nearly four hours.
“Chapmanville already had a strong team to begin with,” Dingess said. “They came down here and made them stronger and gave them the edge to go on.”
Ramey went on to play college ball at Division II West Virginia State. She just finished up her four-year career in May.
Chapmanville’s Williamson-Ramey battery is considered the best in school history.
“With some of her teammates like Poppy Ramey. I felt like Poppy could have played Division I ball,” Dingess said. “Maybe she didn’t have enough exposure. She did a real good job.”
Dingess said, though, he will always remember the ‘06 run by the Lady Lions.
“I felt like it was fate,” Dingess said. “We made it all the way to the finals against Wheeling Central. They scored a run but we weren’t able to score any.”
To be the last Harts varsity team standing, Dingess said his girls had overwhelming support from the community.
“We were playing at Harts High School for the last year and everyone came out to support us at the state tournament,” Dingess said. “Parkersburg is a good distance away from the Harts area but we had a good crowd there because it was the last year.”
Williamson’s competitiveness and toughness has been well documented. Dingess said he saw it in her back in ‘06 when Williamson had to sit out a game with a sore arm.
“One time her arm was hurting her when we were playing in the tournament down at West Hamlin,” Dingess said. “Even though she wasn’t on the mound she was outspoken. She let everyone know that we were going to win.”