In 2000, the Houston High School baseball team made history as the first team of the program to advance to North Half playoffs.
“To my knowledge, they had not been there before,” said Greg Pepper who coached and taught at Houston for almost 15 years prior to the event. “I know they didn’t when I was coaching and I can’t remember anyone getting that far before then.”
Although the 2000 team fell to Caledonia at North Half, then-coach Joe Williford said the support the team received in the years prior to the event and during the season and series were key to building a successful program.
“All those guys that played were so dedicated,” Williford said. “I wish I had been a better baseball coach. I always wondered what I could have done differently (to go further). I think I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I was thrilled to be a part of it.”
Houston Upper Elementary School Principal John Ellison was a former Topper and spent the spring of 2000 on the baseline watching his younger brother play.
“I was student coaching with coach Williford,” Ellison said. “Scott was playing and pitched the first game of the series and the last. We had some really good players, parents and supporters. It was such a great year.”
The current field was brand new that season and both Ellison and Williford credited parents and community members for making it happen.
“It was the first year on the new field they called the ‘Field of Dreams’,” Ellison said.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of parents that worked to build that field,” Williford said.
From the players
The members of the 2000 team remember the excitement not only of the North Half appearance but of the blossoming of the baseball program.
“The experience was one that I have never forgotton and unlike anything I had experienced at that stage in my life,” said Jeremy Brooks. “I believe the recognition (of the program’s potential) started two years prior when the parents, coaches and school realized that a great team was being developed. Look at how the facilities improved. My senior year we played on one the nicest fields in the state. The most valuable aspect to this, in my opinion, is that the more success the program has the more college scouts will pay attention to the great athletes that Houston has to offer.”
Jim McCullough went on to play baseball for Freed-Hardeman College after high school graduation but said his days as a Topper are still strong and clear.
“As a team it gave us a level of satisfaction for the all the work we put in during the year to achieve the North Half game and knowing we were one of the four best teams left in the state in our classification,” McCullough said. “I was also a junior that year and it gave those of us coming back the next year a level of confidence knowing what it takes to get that deep in the playoffs because we had experienced the process.”
Both Brooks and McCullough agreed baseball was a positive influence on their lives and can be for others.
“For someone who has been there, I can tell you that I miss playing baseball every day of my life,” Brooks said. “Playing baseball is a way to keep these kids occupied, can provide an education beyond high school and also provide valuable assets that can be used throughout life.
“As an individual it will give you more exposure to college coaches because the success you’re having is going to draw more attention and people/coaches are noticing what you’re doing. And lastly, it was just a lot of fun for the players, coaches and parents involved. They are making some memories that will last a long time. The biggest thing is to not take it for granted and enjoy every minute of it win or lose. It goes by so fast.”
And it keeps on growing
Ellison and Williford have both seen the effects of success in the program over the years and believe it will only get stronger from here.
“When you have that kind of success it leads to more success,” Ellison said. “The players, coaches and fans start to expect that kind of success which became our motto for several years to come.”
Ellison was an assistant coach for four years and head coach for six years before turning the reins over to current coach, Scott Gann.
“It also helps the players in their personal development,” Ellison said. “They learn how to deal with the pressures of a big game, they learn lessons about what it takes to win at a high level and they make memories that will last a lifetime. It’s also very special for a coach like Coach Gann. Scott was a part of that 2000 team and I’m sure that makes this even more special. To see a former player and one of your assistants go on and do great things is rewarding.”
“I knew John was going to be the type of baseball coach he turned out to be and I’m tickled to death for Scott,” Williford said. “Houston is fortunate to have that caliber of coaches today.”