State-title-winning coach hired for BHS softball; Carter quickly un-retires

KNOXVILLE — Bearden High School has its new softball head coach, and she takes the reins of the Lady Bulldogs after rebuilding other softball teams across the area.

Dayna Carter, who guided Christian Academy of Knoxville’s Lady Warriors to back-to-back state championships in 2016 and 2017, accepted the job in late June.

Recently resigning from The King’s Academy in Seymour, Carter thought she’d coached her last high school game after the 2021 season, which would have wrapped up a coaching career that saw her win more than 500 games while also taking Seymour High School and TKA’s Lady Lions to the state tournament.

“It’s funny,” Carter said. “I thought I was done, but then I had a conversation with my husband and my oldest daughter, and they told me that coaching is in my blood.”

Bearden was in need of a head coach after Angelica McClerkin resigned, as she and her family have relocated.

Carter will spend the next few weeks getting to know her new team.

“The consensus that I’m getting is that they’re a sleeping giant,” Carter said of the Lady Bulldogs. “I don’t know much about the team, so we’re going to play a couple of games this summer.”

Program rebuilds are nothing new to Carter, who transformed Seymour High into a yearly contender.

Before she arrived at SHS, the Lady Eagles had won three games in two years. When she went to CAK, the rebuilding process led to the highest level of success — twice.

She did, however, inherit a solid program at The King’s Academy.

Carter, who also took the job at the requests of many parents, said she spoke to McClerkin.

“I reached out to coach Mac,” the new Bearden coach said. “She had the program going in the right direction. I told her that I wanted to continue to build on what she started.”

Though finishing 11-14, the Lady Bulldogs made great strides in 2021, capturing a run-rule victory early in the season against District 4-AAA rival Maryville, which is usually a top program in the area.

Recent Lady Bulldogs success, decline

Bearden enjoyed success under previous head coaches Mark Blevins and Leonard Sams.

Sams guided the Lady Bulldogs to the Class AAA state tournament in Murfreesboro in 2015, but was dismissed following the season, which was the program’s last winning campaign.

Enter McClerkin, who inherited a program in steep decline, as many of Sams’ players left the team after his departure.

McClerkin and the Lady Bulldogs struggled, but got progressively better during each year of her tenure.

“Angelica did a good job keeping things positive,” Carter said. “I met with the parents and I got a lot of positive vibes.

“When I’ve played against them, they always had good energy,” she added.

Close to home

Carter said she is glad to be back in public schools and noted one reason she went to Bearden was because she’s able to coach in her community. Kim Hazelwood Field is a short distance from her home.

“When you coach in the public schools, you’re coaching in and for your community,” she said. “And that ballpark is five minutes from my house.”