Jackson Herald sports reporter Ben Munro talks with Jackson County baseball coach Matt Bolt about coaching at his alma mater, nearly hitting his mom with a home run ball once, his high school walk-up song and his favorite book to teach to students.
•MUNRO: You’re in the highly-unique position to have played, served as an assistant coach and then head coach for the same program. How much does it mean to you to have been part of Jackson County baseball ever since the mid-2000s?
BOLT: It’s truly a blessing! I've been fortunate enough to have been taught by some very passionate teachers, coached by some incredible coaches and led by some remarkable administrators in my years as a student at JCCHS. Now, I have the privilege of teaching beside some of the best teachers around, coaching with some of the most dedicated coaches around and working under some of the most incredible leaders in the state as an educator, and coach, at JCCHS. Not to mention, I get the special privilege of being a positive influence in the classroom, and on the field, to incredible young learners who were just like me many years ago.
•MUNRO: As a player, could you have ever imagined leading the program one day?
BOLT: Honestly, no! I was young and had different aspirations when I graduated from JCCHS in 2008. However, I'm so thankful that I ended up back at JCCHS. I've been a part of the lowest of lows in this program. The most games we won during my tenure as a baseball player at JCCHS was six. I've been a part of some of the highs! I was on staff with Tommy Fountain, Brian Vance, Joseph Laird, Chad Brannon and Troy McIntyre when we were one win away from competing for a state title in 2016. I love this program and what it's provided for me as a player, assistant and now head coach. I'll be forever grateful for the various figures who have had a part in my journey in becoming the head coach of this program.
•MUNRO: Growing up, what MLB players did you follow most closely? Whose batting stance did you try to emulate?
BOLT: I know it's cliche to say, but I'm from Braves Country; I love Chipper Jones! It's quite ironic; there's a picture of me, I couldn't have been more than 4-5 years old, in the Jackson Herald attending a JCCHS baseball game. I can remember diving into a pile of sand acting as if I was Chipper Jones trying to catch a ball. I loved Chipper's passion for the game. I loved his smooth swing and the swagger he brought to the diamond day in and day out.
•MUNRO: As far as your high school career, what was your biggest game, individually, as a Panther?
BOLT: As a player at JCCHS, I had a few solid games. However, my senior year, we were playing a top-10 Salem team at home. I pitched a complete, seven-inning game. We lost the game 3-2; however, I was responsible for our only two runs, as well. I had an RBI double and a solo home run. Funny enough, our parents used to park their vehicles behind the fence in center field, and I almost knocked my mom out of the back of the truck with the home run. Unfortunately, we didn't win many games in the four years I was a player, but that had to be one of my overall top performances as a player.
•MUNRO: Did you have a walk-up song? If not, what would it have been?
BOLT: I had a couple! My best had to be Pastor Troy's, "It's About to Go Down.” I've tried to get some of our guys to use it. However, it's too old school for them, haha.
•MUNRO: Who is the best player you ever played against?
BOLT: I’ve played against some really good players. The best had to be Tyler Austin from Heritage High School in Conyers. He hit an absolute tank off me my senior year. He got drafted out of high school into the Yankees organization and had a large role on their big league club. He's also played for the Giants, Twins, and Brewers. You may recognize him from the fight he was involved with Joe Kelly and the Red Sox.
•MUNRO: Moving forward to more present-day stuff, you’re also an English-Language Arts teacher — winning 2017 JCCHS Teacher of the Year honors — in addition to your duties as head baseball coach. What is your favorite book to teach?
BOLT: I take great pride in being an educator. Teaching is my number one, and always will be. I have a wonderful department chair and administration who are very supportive of the texts we incorporate in our classrooms. I teach a majority of ninth (grade) and ninth(-grade) honors students, and I love teaching Mitch Albom's memoir “Tuesdays with Morrie." There are so many valuable aphorisms and life lessons throughout the text which our students can resonate with. It's not the most rigorous text to read. However, it's a text students can relate to on a very personal level.
•MUNRO: On the field, your team put together a school-record 11-game winning streak this past season. How much fun was that stretch? It included multiple come-from-behind victories.
BOLT: Outside of the final four run in 2016, "The Streak" is probably one of my favorite memories of Panther baseball. We had such an incredible group of young men last year, and they loved each other and loved the game of baseball. They trusted each other and did what it took to win baseball games. We were never out of any game, and it really reminded me of the group in 2016. During our playoff run in 2016, we lost every single Game 1 of the series, but our kids didn't worry one bit. Just like those kids, we'd get down in games, and our kids just didn't worry about it. They were selfless and found ways to gut out tough wins. Obviously, we didn't end our season the way we wanted, and or expected to, but it was certainly a fun ride.
•MUNRO: Jackson County baseball will be moving to a nice, new facility, so you’ve had to say goodbye to the old Panther Park. Did you get nostalgic during the final home game this past season given your long-standing ties to that place?
BOLT: Honestly, not as much as you would think. It's like your first car. I had a little Ford Ranger as my first truck. I loved that truck. I still do. It's on my dad's farm still. However, the thought of something brand new with all the bells and whistles, metaphorically speaking, is what everyone dreams of. I love Panther Park. I have a lot of great memories on that field. However, I have a lot of pain on that field too. I'm ready to turn the page and start a new chapter in our new home.
•MUNRO Will any pieces or mementos from the old park move to the new park?
BOLT: We're taking some field and practice equipment. In addition, we're definitely taking Coach (Joel) Conway's No. 25 jersey with us! Other than that, most will stay behind.
•MUNRO: And, finally, how excited are you about the future of the program on the heels of a 16-win season and a new facility in which to play?
BOLT: Our coaching staff, our players and myself are enthusiastic about the future of our program. We return a lot of pieces to a very solid team. We have incredible young men who are already pushing themselves harder in the weight room and on the field than they ever have before in their lives. Our guys understand what it's going to take to take this program to the next level, and they want it. It's not going to be easy by any means, but our coaching staff is one of the best around, our administration is one of the best around, our parents are some of the best around and most importantly we have some awesome young men who love each other and the game of baseball. So yes, we're excited, but our primary focus is getting better every day, so we can compete in one of the toughest regions across the state of Georgia.