Legendary local softball coach Clifford Kirk, in the midst of one of the most remarkable seasons in his nearly 40-year career, collapsed during the seventh inning of his Sale Creek's team Region 3-A battle with Whitwell Wednesday night.
Playing on their still-under-construction home field, Kirk had the winning run on second base in a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning. As he turned towards his runner, he raised his left hand as if to convey a message, but uttered a very audible groan and collapsed directly across the bag, seemingly unconscious.
A trained medical attendant began CPR almost immediately, but there was no portable defibrillator on hand in the makeshift stadium or the two Hamilton County Sheriff's cars that arrived in less than five minutes. Approximately three minutes later, paramedics arrived and attempted to defibrillate the fallen coach once. CPR continued until he was loaded in the ambulance for transport to Erlanger.
Sale Creek principal Tobin Davidson said that the last word he got from the paramedics was that Kirk had a pulse and had opened his eyes, but was non-responsive. However, Channel 9 sports director Darrell Patterson has tweeted that Kirk became responsive during his transport to Erlanger. East Hamilton coach Cara Stiles, who played for Kirk at Soddy-Daisy and whose own team won its region championship game earlier Wednesday, tweeted from the hospital that Kirk conversed with EMTs.
Late Wednesday night, Kirk's family confirmed that the coach had suffered "a cardiac event" and was being closely monitored in Erlanger's ICU.
Sale Creek and Whitwell were locked in a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning of their Region 3-A final game, a rematch of the District 6-A tournament last week. Sale Creek players were allowed to leave for the hospital and it was agreed between Davidson and Whitwell coach Grace Pickett that a decision on the game would be made Thursday. Both teams already advance to Friday's sectional round by virtue of first-round region wins on Monday.
This was Kirk's first season at the small school, persuaded from retirement from former Soddy-Daisy athlete, teacher and coach Davidson. Last year's Sale Creek team won only one game, but this year's squad took a 21-16 record into Wednesday's contest with Whitwell.