LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – They say a person’s life is measured in moments.
Woody Hunt’s life can be measured in years, seconds and inches.
Years. 43 of them at Cumberland University and 41 as head coach.
“I didn’t plan 43 years and once you get started, it becomes part of you,” said Hunt.
But this year was his last.
“I could just feel it. You can just feel it, it’s time to go,” he said. “Not that it’s been an easy decision, but a decision I feel like needed to be made.”
The signs saying it was time kept coming. For Hunt, the last year brought him challenges that went from deciding his future to a matter of life and death.
Seconds. If Hunt’s son called any later, he may not be here.
“I get a call from my son who says, ‘Dad, you better get to cover, it’s in your neighborhood.’ So we went to the closet and a few seconds later it happened and it destroyed our house.”
Last March, tornadoes whipped through the Middle Tennessee area, touching down in Lebanon.
“My wife said she could feel the suction and I think if it had been a little lower, we would’ve been sucked out and may have been killed,” said Hunt.
The tornado was one of three near-death experiences for Hunt over the past year. The second, a bout with COVID-19.
“At our age, we’re very grateful we didn’t have to go to the hospital because so many people that we knew at our age had gone and didn’t make it out.”
“When the hitter hit the ball, I actually saw the blur and as soon as I saw it, it hit me and I couldn’t move,” he said. “It’s like I saw it, and boom.”
Hunt took a line-drive to the face while coaching third base earlier this season.
“I don’t think anybody said a word. I think everybody just kind of stood there in silence,” said Cumberland baseball player Ethan Shelton. “Didn’t say anything for 30 minutes just like in shock.”
The ball did some damage, but not as much as it could have.
“I’m 70 years old and I’m not very agile right now, but I did duck a little bit maybe and it did hit the edge of the helmet,” said Hunt. “My nose hit the brunt of it. Hit me square in the nose, bloodied me up pretty good and I actually thought that this may be it.”
His first time coaching third base in years didn’t go as planned, but he finished what he started.
“That’s the way I started and I wanted to end that way. I started (my career) coaching third base.”
There’s no reason to doubt the man as he has over 1,600 wins to his name and three NAIA National Championships.
“Those feelings of those championships are hard to describe. Unless you’ve been through, it you really can’t describe it. It’s such a feeling of accomplishment and to see players, just seeing the joy in their heart. If you like to lose, you better get out of the business. They keep score for one reason, to declare a winner and that’s the way I look at it.”
Hunt’s love extends beyond the scoreboard. When the tornado hit his house, the community showed him some love.
“He is the epitome of a grandfather figure to everyone. He just feels the need to take care of everyone, so I felt like when that tornado hit his house, everyone felt like they should take care of him,” said Cumberland University baseball player Jordan Burdette.
The GoFundMe set up by Hunt’s friends raised nearly $30 thousand dollars.
“We got funds from all over the country,” said Hunt. “It was just really difficult to reach out to everybody. I did reach out to every donor, however. Without that GoFundMe, I probably couldn’t have done what I did with my house. It was overwhelming.”
To anyone else, the last year would have been just that – overwhelming. However, Hunt gave every inch he had to make every second count, year after year.
“In hard times, it’s easy to look back on him and think, ‘What would Coach Hunt do in this moment?’ because he’s fallen down multiple times through this past year, and gotten right back up with flying colors,” said Burdette. “He’s really been an example to all of us during those times.”
Those who know Hunt learned about perseverance by watching him endure last year’s challenges, but Hunt himself gained a lot of perspective having gone through it.
“You create shining moments on the field. Special moments. In real life, there are moments that can change your life and these three things happened to me and my family, and that has put things in the right perspective. It made me understand that it’s okay to retire and enjoy other things.”
Cumberland baseball is keeping it in the family. Coach Hunt’s son, Ryan, is taking over as head coach. Woody Hunt will still hang around the ball park, except now, he’ll be watching — from a safe distance — as a fan.
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