A 1990 Mineola graduate earned a nationwide honor recently.
Former Yellowjacket and Southern Arkansas University (SAU) hurler Kyle Slaton has amassed a stellar 470-198 record in over 20 years coaching baseball and his Nashville (Arkansas) High School Scrappers have won back-to-back Class 4A state championships.
Slaton’s two state championship teams have gone 60-12 the past two years. He earned the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Diamond District 6 Regional Coach of the Year last year and this year. This season the ABCA made Slaton the High School Division II National Coach of the Year.
District 6 is made up of baseball coaches from Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana. Eleven coaches from throughout the country are named to the national honor in different divisions. “I got a phone call last year when they named me district coach of the year. Never in my days since playing baseball at Mineola Youth Foundation did I ever think anything like this could happen to me,” Slaton noted. “And then I got another call letting me know about the national honor I was simply blown away. The only reason I won any award is because of the opportunity to coach great kids and great teams. They are the ones who are awesome.”
Slaton has been at the helm of Nashville for 17 years after spending his first five years at Fouke where one of his teams won a state championship.
“When I got the phone call about being the district coach of the year, I was overwhelmed,” Slaton said. “I went to the ABCA Hall of Fame/Coach of the Year banquet in Indianapolis last year and that was neat. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be District 6 Coach of the Year again. I won these awards because of the opportunity I’ve had to coach great kids and great teams. It’s just awesome.”
He is one of only 11 coaches in the United States that earn the coveted National Coach of the Year award. District 6 consists of coaches from Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“To think of how many great coaches and teams that there are in those five states, it is unbelievable that I was picked out of the field in that district,” he said. “I was humbled to find out that I was one of the 11 coaches chosen as National Coach of the Year.”
Slaton has been involved in coaching for 21 years and got his first experience at Fouke, AR High School where he and his first state champions in 1999. His 2007 Nashville team also won a state title.
The 2017 team was loaded with 10 seniors, of which seven were starters. This year’s team, with almost all newcomers, surprised everyone with a 30-5 record on the way to the state crown where they defeated Shiloh Christian 4-0. “This was a special group. We had to replace seven starters and had no idea we would be this good,” Slaton said. “Those seven new starters probably didn’t have 10 innings total of playing time last season, so I am real proud of them.”
Slaton’s love for baseball began at a very young age playing on teams at Mineola Youth Foundation Park. His parents, the late Kenneth and Dolores Slaton, were the foundation builders of his life. “My Mom and Dad were always there for me and I had a lot of great coaches growing up,” Slaton said. “I grew up with some good baseball players like Bobby Curtis, Curtis Dowdle, David Sinches, Rodney Clower and Brandon Lankford. Playing in the summer we got become friends with players from other towns like Cory Tucker and Carlos Berry in Quitman and Jason Hathcock from Grand Saline.
Slaton’s mother Dolores passed away prior to the 2017 season and he and his team dedicated that year to her. “It was really special time for me. There is a picture the players dog-piling after the state win and you can see me off to the side pointing my finger to heaven and my Mom.”
Slaton said things were different when he played. “We didn’t have distractions like kids do today. We had the ballpark and baseball. That’s all we did all summer long,” Slaton added.
Slaton fondly remembers his mentor and high school coach, the late Danny Freeman. “There is no doubt if it weren’t for Coach Freeman. I wouldn’t be here today coaching baseball. Coach Freeman got me in at Southern Arkansas where I could play college ball and he helped me get my first job at Fouke,” Slaton observed. “Just about everything in my baseball career is because of Coach Freeman.”
This state championship was even more special because the tournament was played in Nashville at the Scrappers’ facility. “In Arkansas, you get to bid for the state tournament and we were fortunate to get the bid this year. It sure helped because we did not have to travel and my kids got to go home and eat and sleep in their own beds,” Slaton said. “It always helps to have a big crowd of your own fans to be there for you. In Arkansas the state tournament has 12 teams competing.”
Slaton has also coached football and has been a part of four state championships, but baseball is his life. “Baseball has always been my love,” Slaton said. “I enjoy coaching football as much as I do baseball, but I played college baseball. I love this game! It has been my passion, and has always been part of my life. I enjoy being around the kids and watching the enjoyment on their faces. I do this profession for the kids.”
Slaton and his wife, Kim, have three children, daughters Bailey and Sydney and son Slade. They live in Nashville.