PETAL – The Petal Panthers didn’t have to go far to find their next head baseball coach, and they tabbed one of their own for the job.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Panthers had to find a new skipper, and Petal Athletics Director Marcus Boyles announced Friday that Petal graduate Shane Kelly was the man for the job. The school held a press conference Monday evening to celebrate the new hire.
“I’m just very excited for the opportunity to come in here to a program that’s built on tradition,” Kelly said. “To have a chance to continue that tradition, and being a former player here, that means a lot to me.”
Before he introduced Kelly to the crowd, Boyles said Petal received more than 50 applicants for the gig, then he narrowed it down to five potential hires for in-person interviews. Even then, Kelly stood out among the candidates.
“After an extensive application and interview process, we determined coach Kelly has the qualities and characteristics we feel are important not only as a head baseball coach but also as a leader for the Petal community,” Boyles said in a statement released on Friday.
Kelly graduated from Petal in 1996 and he was a member of the 1995 state championship team. He’d go on to play baseball at Mississippi State, then the Tampa Bay Devil Rays drafted him in the MLB draft after his colligate career.
He landed his first head-coaching gig in 2003 at Hillcrest Academy in Jackson, where he won three state championships, then he moved back to Petal following the 2012 season to become an assistant coach under long-time coach Larry Watkins.
“I think you have to get the kids to play hard and work hard,” Kelly said of his state championship success. “You have to be very specific with what you’re going to do in practice and have a practice plan ready to go. You just have to get the kids willing to play hard and go through a brick wall for you, and I think I’m the type of coach who can get that out of the kids. You have to find that extra little bit that makes them go a little further than they thought they could.”
For Kelly, the move back to Petal wasn’t a difficult one. Even though he had proven himself as a successful head coach, he had one big goal in mind – to become the Petal Panthers head coach.
“I’ve always wanted to be the head coach because it’s such a tradition-rich program, and that was one of my main goals,” Kelly said. “Another part is the school system here. It’s second to none. It was just a great opportunity for my family to come down here and also get the opportunity to maybe coach at Petal High School.”
After five years as an assistant, his dream has come true. Going through the interview process, his main vision was to bring a positive atmosphere to the program by getting the kids involved with community service projects off the field.
That’s how he plans to put his mark on the Petal baseball program.
“Hopefully the kids work off my vibe,” he said. “I think it’s my duty as a coach to build those guys and prepare them for after baseball and when their careers are over so they can become good leaders of this community, good dads and just be better people to help our future out.”