By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
GLADWIN — The outfield fence looked so far away, so unreachable whenever Gladwin senior Dayna Fennell stepped to the plate as a youngster.
And it was — back then.
"It was in high school the first time I hit one over," Fennell said. "When I was in Little League, I thought, 'I don't understand how people have the strength to hit one over.' When I hit my first home run, I was very surprised."
Nobody is surprised when Fennell clears the fences these days. In fact, it's almost disappointing for Gladwin players and fans when a game goes by and she doesn't hit a round-tripper.
With her 19th home run of the season last Saturday against Linden in a tournament at Ogemaw Heights, Fennell broke the MHSAA single-season record shared by Pentwater's Melinda Van Gillis (1979), Williamston's Camri Grace (2014) and Romeo's Madison Jones (2015).
The home run hit the top of the fence in left-center field and rolled over.
"I didn't even think it went over," Fennell said. "I just thought it would be a solid double. I thought it bounced inside the fence. Then I heard everyone cheering. I looked at the umpire while he was doing the whole circle motion; it was a home run. I was so ecstatic."
It was also an opportunity to exhale a bit. By hitting one home run in each of the three games of the Ogemaw Heights tournament, Fennell put the record pursuit behind her as Gladwin prepares for the Division 2 District on Saturday at Cadillac.
"It was actually a relief," Fennell said. "Everywhere I went, everyone's asking me how I was doing. It was a little bit of pressure. I'm glad I finally broke it."
The possibility of breaking the record became a hot topic in Gladwin when Fennell hit eight home runs in her first eight games. Before spring actually felt like spring, she eclipsed the school record of six that she set last year.
"I think I had 11 or so and thought there was no way I could hit eight more," she said. "Everyone was like, 'You've only got eight more.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I probably won't get it.' I never thought I was going to come close to it."
Fennell has tied or broken the school record in all four of her seasons with the Flying G's, equaling the modest former standard of three as a freshman and bumping it to four as a sophomore. With 32 career homers, she is tied for 10th on that MHSAA all-time list.
"My parents live 30 minutes away," Gladwin coach Jill Keefer said. "People are asking my dad about her. I'll be at the gas station, and people will say, 'I want to see her hit one out.' She's putting Gladwin on the map, in a sense, in softball."
Fennell has done a good job of handling the attention she's received for chasing and breaking the record, her coach said.
"She's very humble about it," Keefer said. "She just wants to play softball and wants to win. She's very passionate about the game. If she broke it, she broke it. Yes, she wanted to do it once she got that close to it. There was a little more hype the closer she got. People put pressure on her as she got close, even her teammates — 'C'mon, hit one today!' There were a few teams that didn't pitch to her, too; you had that factor. Now she's focused on winning Districts."
Fennell is a three-sport athlete, also playing volleyball and basketball for Gladwin. But no matter what sport was in season, she found a way to put in the work necessary to more than double her previous career home run total.
"Softball is my number one sport, my favorite sport always," Fennell said. "I had time to fit it in. I make time for it. Even if it's an hour, I go in and hit and do whatever I have to do. During the winter time, I was in the gym every weekend with my dad (Gladwin assistant coach Steven Fennell). I practiced hard when I went. I did extra reps."
Fennell is averaging one home run every 6.5 at bats. With 19 homers, 11 doubles and a triple among her 57 hits in 123 at bats, she has a whopping 1.032 slugging percentage. She has driven in 65 runs and is hitting .463. She has struck out only nine times, walking 16.
The fences on Gladwin's home field are 200 feet from home plate, but it's not as if Fennell is benefitting from a short porch. Nine of her home runs are at home and 10 have been on the road. She has come within inches of tacking on a few more home runs to her record total.
"We were at (Midland) Dow last Tuesday," Keefer said. "She hit the fence twice, and it was a 225-foot fence. If she'd been on our field, they would've been out. (Tuesday at Standish-Sterling) she hit the fence again, and it was a 214-foot fence."
Fennell is more than just a slugger. Playing primarily shortstop, she has a .900 fielding percentage. The versatile Fennell has also pitched and played catcher.
"She's a smart player," Keefer said. "She sees the field very well. She sees runners very well. She can pitch, she can catch, she can play anywhere in the field. I'd put her in the outfield, too. She has such a strong arm."
Fennell will continue her playing career at Delta College.
"They have a good dental assistant program that I'm looking into," she said. "A couple of my teammates from travel ball are going there. The coach seemed really interested and said I'd have a starting spot on the team."
Before she puts on a Delta uniform, she will try to win a District championship. The Flying G's are 29-9 heading into a District Semifinal matchup with Ogemaw Heights at noon Saturday at Cadillac. In the other semifinal, a Cadillac team that received honorable mention in the last coaches' rankings will face Gaylord at 10 a.m.
"That would be amazing to win, especially with Regionals being at home," Fennell said. "That would be awesome to have our whole crowd cheering us on."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Gladwin's Dayna Fennell prepares to connect with a pitch during this season's Beaverton Invitational. (Middle) Fennell throws to first base against Ithaca. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023