Five years and over 50,000 miles ago Monette pharmacist Kenny Lomax co-founded a girls softball team that eventually became a three time national champion. The Arkansas Heat have become well known all over, not only the state of Arkansas but around the country, for their winning ways.
Lomax received a telephone call five years ago from a friend, Rex Nelson, a fireman from Paragould, who brought up the idea of coaching girls softball. Along with Harold Burnside, the trio put together what has become one of the strongest girls softball teams in the nation, year after year.
The current Heat team will be participating in the ASA Gold National Tournament Aug. 1-7 at Midland, Texas, a 12-hour trip from Jonesboro. Long trips are nothing new for Lomax, who pulls the team's trailer which holds all the equipment needed for each weekend. Starting in the spring, the Heat play almost every weekend and have made trips all over the country, to places such as Shreveport, La., Longview, Texas, as well as Indianapolis and Bloomington, Ind.
"We have made a lot of long trips and put a lot of miles in during the last five years," said Lomax. "But I enjoy it. We play through the summer until nationals and then play fall ball until November, when we break for the holidays before starting up again in the early spring. We either practice or play in tournaments nine to ten months a year. That's one of the keys to our success. We are able to do this because we have an indoor practice facility in Paragould, which is first rate. The trailer we use is huge. We have hangers where the girls have their bags with their names on them, two sets of catcher's equipment, fans, water, a generator and a huge boombox that the girls love."
The Heat have had a lot of girls go through their system the last five years, but still have the original three members in Lomax's granddaughter Katie Lomax, along with Nelson's daughter Chase and Burnside's daughter Braxton.
"We have been lucky," said Lomax. "We've had a lot of good players. I think the three keys to winning are obviously having good players and good coaches, but most importantly, having great parents, and that's what we've had over the years. All of the parents follow the team every weekend, which in these times, is not easy to do economically."
"Our practices are not normal," said Lomax. "We have drills. We teach the girls the correct way to run, different situations they may face during a game. Our coaches are always on the internet looking for new ideas or new drills to change things up and keep the girls interested. It makes it more fun for them. We work very hard on defense. I don't think anyone we play can beat us defensively.
"Rex does a great job with the girls and has a lot of help from Harold, as well as our other two assistant coaches, Larry Lewallen and Tiny Scott."
"Our goal is for all our girls to have the chance to play Division 1 softball one day," Lomax continued. "They know there is a purpose for what they do. We have our own website (www.teamz.com/arkansasheat) and each girl has a college picked out that they hope to play for, like Arkansas, Arizona State, etc. They have a reason for doing what they do, and it's paid off in a lot of wins over the years, including three straight national titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Last year we moved up to the ASA Gold Division, which is much tougher. There are around 150 teams that participate in that tournament from all over the nation as well as Canada. We finished 18th last year and hope to challenge for the title this season. We have won 83 percent of the tournaments we have played in over the years."
Lomax said the biggest thrills have been the three national championships, but admitted the first title holds a special place in his heart. "I still have the plaque and I will never get rid of that," Lomax said. "I couldn't have done this without my wife Beverly. She is on the front row in the bleachers of every game. I have to have her support or I couldn't do this. She loves it as much as I do.
"We leave on Friday afternoons after I close the pharmacy and usually get home late Sunday night, sometimes early Monday morning."
Lomax said he has only missed two tournaments in the five year history of the Heat. "Ironically, I missed our very first tournament due to a previous engagement, and the only other time I missed was when I attended a wedding. It's just a way of life for us. But it's something we wouldn't change for anything. We love being around the girls and we just love sports in general. We hope to keep this going for another three or four years, until Katie gets in college. After that, we'll just have to see," concluded Lomax.