Photo/James Pugh

Even while at East Rankin Academy – a fellow private school nearly double the current size of Sylva Bay Academy – Seth Cheatham was familiar with MAIS AA school in the eight years he sent at East Rankin as a junior high girls basketball coach and assistant softball coach. 

“We’ve played [Sylva Bay] in the past, more recently in softball,” said Cheatham. “We also played them in basketball earlier in my career. I knew the softball program was going in the right direction. You could see that in the athletes that were on the field. 

“In basketball, it’s been about five years since we’ve played each other. But I know [Sylva Bay] has had talented athletes come through its programs. I remember watching Cody Prewitt play when he was at Sylva Bay. So I had some knowledge and background with Sylva Bay.”

Cheatham will gain even more knowledge about the MAIS AA school in the future. Cheatham was recently named Sylva Bay Academy’s varsity girls basketball and softball head coach. 

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Cheatham as it pertains to being a varsity head coach. “God opened that door for me. I’m blessed to be able to be at a school that I feel like is small enough but at the same time competitive enough to get things going in the right direction.

“I know what they want to achieve with athletics, and hopefully that’s what we can accomplish.”

Both athletic programs Cheatham will oversee are young in experience. Only one senior is represented in both girls basketball and softball. But Cheatham believes that the opportune time to build a program in the right direction.

First, as to girls basketball:

“We’re young,” said Cheatham. “Only one senior on both teams. There’s a large sophomore group in varsity [basketball] that’s coming off a good year in junior high. We also have, and that’ll be a help too. Now we only have about eight girls in varsity basketball, but to me, that’s about what you need and how many you’ll play in a game. 

“Athletically, I think we’re wide open in basketball. Looking at the league, I think our girls have a real good chance. Now it will be competitive, and as I told them yesterday, it’s not going to be a cake-walk. We host the state tournament this year, and I told our girls that we better be playing in it – that’s my expectations. I told our girls, we can host it, we can win it, and we can go play at MC. And that’s my goal; I want to be a contender every year at MC. And I think we can do it, especially with how young we are.”

Cheatham favors high-tempo basketball, the kind that begins with “press, forces turnovers and creates chaos.”

“I want high-tempo,” said Cheatham. “High-tempo basketball – get it and go. But of course, that will depend on the situation. It may dictate otherwise. But [high-tempo basketball] is what the guys I were taught under liked. It’s how they liked playing.”

Secondly, as to pertains to softball:

“[Like with girls basketball], we’re young. We only have one senior – Hannah Fries,” Cheatham said. “I think our strong point right now is on offense. Some people may be shocked that I said that, but it’s one of our stronger areas right now. Defensively, the one area we lack is our pitching. But from what I’ve seen overall, I think we can be competitive this year. We’ll need a couple of girls to step up pitching-wise, but I feel like we’re athletic in enough areas that if those take over, it can carry us.”

While he feels his teams strong suit right now is offense, Cheatham’s not opposed to playing small-ball.

“If the situation dictates a bunt, then we’ll bunt,” added Cheatham. “It all depends on who you got on your roster. And we may have to play some small ball this year to get things going. We do have some girls that can hit, but whatever the situation dictates then I’m not opposed to doing it.”

Tanner Ford will assist Cheatham in softball. Ford, who has connections with Billy Hamilton, brings a lot to the table said, Cheatham.

“Tanner Ford is like having an ace in the hole,” said Cheatham. “He’s a guy that is well-known around here. It’s one of those situations where having a guy like him with his background, growing up with Billy [Hamilton]. We were talking the other day and talking about him going up to see Billy play. The philosophy [around the game] up there is so different. We’re teaching a philosophy down here that is basic – basic philosophies and basic fundamentals. And up there he said things are different and so much more advanced. And Tanner can bring that back here to us. Everything that he learns by going up there to see Billy Hamilton [play and practice], he can bring back here.

“He’s another guy that we have in our back pocket that will bring a lot of experience to this group.”

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