SMITHVILLE — When the time came to conclude his stellar coaching career, Steve Tingler always envisioned handing the ball over to Kaily Mayhugh.
It was something Tingler had done time and again during Mayhugh’s days as a standout pitcher — at both the high school and college level — because he knew full well the future would be in good hands.
Late last year, Tingler retired as Smithville’s head softball coach, bringing an end to a hall of fame coaching career that spanned more than 40 years. He spent 18 seasons as the Warriors’ head coach, guiding them from a fledgling program to a perennial winner that always contended for conference and district titles.
But after leading the program to reach new heights in recent years, he believed it was time to hand the reins over to one of the best athletes to ever take the field for Smithville.
“It was just time,” Tingler said. “I’ve probably been thinking about this for years. And I’ve always said, ‘Whenever I step down, I want Kaily to be the one to take over.’”
Tingler’s coaching career dates back to 1977, when he accepted an assistant basketball coaching position at West Platte. But little did he know that would be the start of a phenomenal career that ranged from high school to the college level.
After taking the Smithville softball job in 1998, he helped transform the program into a consistent winner, thanks in large part to his work with the Warriors’ up-and-coming pitchers at his specially designed practice facility. And that’s where Tingler first started coaching Mayhugh as a sixth-grader.
She made rapid progress as a pitcher, set numerous single-season and career records and led Smithville to its first district title in program history in 2010. Mayhugh continued to learn from Tingler during her outstanding college career at Park University, where Tingler also coached for eight seasons.
The ways Tingler sees it, all that experience gives Mayhugh a major advantage and a unique perspective as she enters her first head coaching gig.
“She brings a lot of things to the game that I can’t bring or didn’t bring,” Tingler said. “Her being a pitcher, she can bring something to those pitchers that I can’t. She’s been on the mound. She’s been through those experiences, and she knows what to say.”
Once she wrapped up a tremendous college career, Mayhugh then served as a volunteer and assistant coach the past few seasons and has only continued to benefit from Tingler’s guidance — first as a player, and now as a coach.
“I think that’s something I’ve taken from Steve and learned to do with the girls is teach that softball isn’t life, but you can learn so much about life through softball,” Mayhugh said. “That’s something he’s done with all of the girls, with me, is taught us these skills in softball that you go out and use in life.
“That’s what I hope to do, too.”
This actually marks the second time Tingler has stepped aside as Smithville’s head coach, following his departure in 2010 to focus on his role at Park. But he remained a constant presence around the Warriors’ program and returned for a remarkable five-year stretch beginning in 2015.
During that stint, Smithville won three conference and district titles and twice advanced to the state tournament, finishing fourth (2016) and third (2017). In all, he finished with a career record of 294-184.
“I saw the talent that was there. I thought we could make a run like that,” said Tingler, who was inducted into the Missouri High School Fastpitch Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame 2017. “It was fun. It was a good run. They were all good years.”
Still, he knew the time was coming to hand off the program to someone else, giving him the chance to spend more time with family and follow his son Jayce, who is entering his first season as manager of the San Diego Padres.
Everything fell into place when Mayhugh accepted a teaching position at the high school and returned to the program after two years when her schedule didn’t allow her to be around the team. Now, she’ll start writing a new chapter as the head coach and help guide the program where she set so many records and forged so many memories.
“I love this town, and I’m so grateful to be back here,” Mayhugh said. “In the beginning, I thought this is where I’m going to be. This is it.
“It’s a dream come true.”
Tingler’s coaching days aren’t entirely behind him, of course. He’ll continue to work with Smithville’s up-and-coming pitchers and lend his expertise as a volunteer coach.
But as he reflected on a remarkable career of accomplishments, he said he’s perhaps most proud of his former players who have entered the coaching ranks — from Mayhugh to Platte County coach Callie Peoples to Lindsey Derry at Park — who will ensure that his legacy in the sport will live on for years to come.
“It’s working with them and getting to watch them grow up,” Tingler said. “Like Kaily as an example, but just all of them. I’m proud of watching them grow up and what they do now.
“I’m most proud of that.”