When my friends Ralph and Karen Weekly were in town last month for the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame Banquet, they had just returned from a trip out west for a big pre-conference softball tournament. The tournament’s final round was rained out, and Tennessee returned home with a record of 14-1 and ranked number two in the country. As of today, Tennessee is 35-6, 12-4 in the SEC and currently ranked fourth in the polls. They should have no problem getting back to the NCAA Women’s World Series, but beating seven other teams to win the national title is a tall order.
Tennessee has been to the World Series six times under the former UTC co-head coaches. They had one of their finest seasons ever in 2013, finishing 52-12 and coming in second nationally behind champion Oklahoma. When you make the final eight, and then the final four portion of the national tournament, it’s mighty hard to win it all. Ralph Weekly told me he hasn’t been discouraged just yet. Former U.T. women’s basketball head coach Pat Summitt told Coach Weekly that she took a team to the NCAA tournament five times before Tennessee won the first of their eight championships. Prior to those first five NCAA appearances, the Lady Vols also showed up in the old NAIW tournament a total of six years as well. This could be the year the softball Lady Vols finally get over the hump and bring home the big trophy.
It’s been a long haul for the Weeklys. They met when Ralph was coaching softball at Pacific Lutheran on the west coast. Karen was a former All-American at Pacific Lutheran and the two have been coaching together since 1997 at UTC. In fact, Karen was the Lady Mocs head coach for one year while Ralph was away as an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic Softball team. I still can’t imagine any other married couple I know who could work that well together for that long.
Tennessee was ranked number one in the pre-season national polls before the season started. Ralph took that particular honor well in stride. “It’s not where you start it’s where you finish,” Weekly said. “I know a lot of people are saying that and I think we could be very good, but all that means is we have a lot of work to do.”
Working hard is nothing new for Ralph and Karen. When they took over at Tennessee in 2003, they inherited a program that was dormant. The Lady Vols were 24-35 the year before and immediately improved to 35-25-1 in their first season. After three more years, their hard work paid off. U.T. finished runner-up in the country in 2005, followed by back-to-back third place finishes nationally in 2006 and in 2007. In all, Tennessee has been to six NCAA College World Series in the last nine years. By the way, Ralph has a couple of national titles under his belt as his Pacific Lutheran teams won a pair of NAIA national crowns in the 1980s.
He still wants the big one however. He and Karen have come really close a couple of times, including last year. We all truly believe he will get it done and 2014 would be as good a time as any to do it. After all, as Ralph said, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org