Pike Lib preps 20th Annual Jonah McWaters Tournament

Published 11:52 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Pike Liberal Arts Schools is hosting the 20th Annual Jonah McWaters Tournament this weekend featuring baseball and softball teams from across the area.

The tournament is in honor of former Pike Lib baseball player, Jonah McWaters, who was badly injured in a car wreck in 2004 ending his baseball career.

“He couldn’t play baseball anymore, so I told him we were going to let him be a part of baseball in another category,” longtime former PLAS Coach Butch Austin said. “I told him we were going to name our tournament after him. Jonah is a good person – a good man – and it was a tragic accident. I’m glad they’ve continued it on for Jonah and I’m glad that they can still have it for him because Jonah deserves it, he deserves everything he can get.”

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Baseball was McWater’s favorite sport, so having the baseball tournament named in his honor was special to him.

“I don’t know if (baseball) was the sport I was best at but it was the one I loved the most,” McWaters emphasized. “I loved to go to practice and play (baseball) the most. I don’t ever remember regretting going to a practice or a game when it came to baseball.

“I loved it, it was the sport I loved the most, and it’s awesome that they’re still doing it. Having something named after you maybe lets you know you left an impact on people. You don’t really know what you’re doing, you’re just living life and sometimes don’t realize the impact you’ve had. For Coach Butch to name a tournament after me was really awesome and that they’re still doing it means a lot.”

McWaters has been a longtime employee of Troy Parks and Recreation where Director Dan Smith says he’s a favorite of everyone that comes to the rec center.

“Jonah is the most wonderful and unique person I have ever met in my life,” Smith said. “He’s an inspiration to so many people. He was an exceptional athlete at Pike Lib before the accident.

“His positive attitude today is encouraging to so many people and he is a magnet for inspiration. All of the customers are drawn to him because of his personality and positive attitude. We are blessed to know him and work with him.”

Now, Butch Austin’s grandson – Will Austin – is leading the Pike Lib baseball program, which McWaters said was “amazing” to watch.

“When we were playing, Will would come to some of the games and be in the dugout with us,” McWaters recalled. “He would run out and get the bats and everything. When (Pike Lib) hired him I was so excited for him to be able to continue the legacy that Coach Butch set in place.

“Coach Butch is an amazing man that influenced so many lives in so many different ways. He instilled work ethic in us and a mental toughness. He was big on being a team and a family. We were all one, we traveled together. If we went to church, we all went together. It means a lot to Coach Butch to have his grandson carrying on his legacy at the same school and Will is doing a great job.”

McWaters said that the lessons that Butch Austin – and now Will Austin – teach players is about more than just baseball.

“The things that Will is teaching – and that Coach Butch taught us – carry far more than just on the baseball diamond,” he said. “Those lessons have been with me for 20-plus years, not just the two years I got to play that sport (at Pike Lib).”

This year will see Pike Lib, Charles Henderson, Montgomery-Catholic, Straughn, Trinity and Geneva play in the Baseball Tournament, while Pike Lib, Kinston, Carroll and Zion Chapel will compete in the softball tournament. Additionally, for the first time ever Charles Henderson Baseball will play on campus at Pike Lib.

“This needed to happen a long time ago, you have to give Chase (Smartt) at Charles Henderson and Will (Austin) a lot of credit for this,” Butch Austin said. “This is two great programs – Charles Henderson has been a great program for a long time and so has Pike – and I’m thankful they are getting together on campus together.”

Will Austin is equally as excited for the opportunity.

“I think it’s good for the community, a small town like Troy having both schools at the same tournament is a unique thing,” Will Austin said. “I’m excited for the community and that they get to see it. Hopefully there will be more events like this in the future.”

On Friday, Feb. 23, in the softball tournament Zion Chapel will face Kinston at 4 p.m., Kinston faces Pike Lib at 5:30 p.m. and Pike Lib meets Carroll at 7 p.m. Carroll and Zion Chapel will play at 10 a.m. on Feb. 24 and then the elimination tournament will begin at noon.

On the baseball side, Montgomery Catholic plays Charles Henderson at 4 p.m. on Feb. 22 and Pike Lib battles Straughn at 6:30 p.m. On Friday, CHHS plays Trinity at 11 a.m., Geneva faces Trinity at 1:30 p.m., Geneva plays Straughn at 4 p.m. and Pike Lib meets Montgomery Catholic at 6:30 p.m. Elimination games begin on Feb. 24 at 9 a.m.