Hallsville coach makes UA-M Hall of Fame
When Kayla Whatley arrived on campus at the University of Arkansas-Monticello as a freshman softball player, she simply wanted to be a team player.
When she departed four years later, she owned a ton of school records and awards.
Five years later, the Hallsville High School graduate and current Ladycat softball coach has earned the biggest honor UA-M has to offer.
Whatley was informed recently she'll be inducted into the Arkansas-Monticello Sports Hall of Fame during a banquet set for Oct. 19. She'll be the youngest of the five inductees after being selected in her first year of eligibility.
"It's a huge honor," said Whatley, a three-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Amerian. "You never expect something like this. I think every athlete's dream is to just go and be a starter at the college level. You just want to be part of a team. ...to fit in with the team. Yes, you want to make a statement, but you want to make sure you fit in. My first year, seven freshmen came in together. Six of us graduated together, and the one who didn't graduate with us had a medical redshirt and graduated a year later. We stuck together all the way through. It was a great experience, and this honor wouldn't be possible without all of them."
Jackson had a career pitching record of 114-31 at UA-M, with 122 complete games, 45 shutouts and 686 strikeouts in 950 innings pitched. She was a career .387 hitter with 34 home runs, 55 doubles, 10 triples and 194 RBI.
"Kayla was probably the single most dominant player we've had," UA-M softball coach Alvy Early said in a press release. "When she was pitching, we expected to win, and when she wasn't she had a knack for getting the big hit when we needed it."
She capped her career by going 31-6 inside the circle as a senior with a 1.07 earned run average, 26 complete games, 10 shutouts and two no-hitters while hitting .374 with 11 home runs, 42 RBI and a .632 slugging percentage.
That earned the Hallsville graduate Female Athlete of the Year honors in the Great American Conference, GAC Pitcher of the Year accolades and second team all-GAC honors as a first baseman.
"Coach Early gave me the opportunity to come in and play," Whatley said. "He had faith in me every year knowing that my goal was to be better than the year before."
Whatley returned to Hallsville as the school's head volleyball coach and assistant softball coach. She compiled a 117-42 record in volleyball, winning district championships with unbeaten teams in 2013 and 2015 and earning a co-district title in 2014.
She became the school's head softball coach prior to the 2017 season, leading the Ladycats to a 15-13-1 record overall and a 4-7 mark in District 16-5A. Hallsville fell to Forney, which is coached by her former high school coach Pat Eitel, in the opening round of the playoffs.
Whatley is joined in the 2017 UA-M Hall of Fame class by Tommy Graf and Melvin Patrick (football), Carolyn Boatman (basketball) and the late Dave Williams, one of Arkansas' most successful high school football coaches.