- Alma School District
Senior Day - Alma coaches embrace Hatley’s lasting legacy- 05/14/2021
By Kevin Taylor
For most kids, defining their high school legacy isn’t something necessarily achieved with a good ACT score, a great performance in a one-act play, or a game-winning basket in the state championship game.
High school legacies may take years.
Sidney Hatley's took about eight months.
Hatley’s journey, from pig-tailed Alma seventh-grader to budding high school star, didn’t include a bunch of college coaches gushing over her athletic exploits — not that they wouldn’t have had they watched her play.
Hatley’s presence in the three sports she played in 2020-21 is something her coaches tend to get misty-eyed over.
Sidney Hatley is a team player.
"Sidney's definitely a program kid; she's a culture kid,” Alma girls basketball coach Codey Mann said. “She's going to do things the right way. Just having her around showing younger kids how things are supposed to be done was huge."
“She’s an incredible young lady to be around, and I count myself extremely blessed to have been able to have her on our team,” Alma soccer coach Cory Sturdivant said. “Any coach would be blessed to have a great young lady like Sidney.”
Last week, Hatley completed her third athletic season of the 2020-21 calendar year — volleyball, basketball and soccer — with her third Senior Day, a spirited overcast spring evening amongst her soccer teammates.
It wasn’t necessarily how the Alma senior had planned to finish her last year of high school. But, as she reflected last week on her career, she had zero regrets.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things. Even if you don’t like it, you need to try it,” Hatley said. “I did that this year. I never thought I would play soccer, but I’m so glad I did, just because of the memories I had and the experiences I had.”
Hatley’s foray, from volleyball, to basketball, to soccer, wasn’t necessarily about triumphs but more of bonding experience.
“A lot of the success you’re going to have in (athletics) is going to come from the team,” she said. “This is one thing I really learned from basketball this year. They did so much to support me, and soccer did that as well.
“(They) showed me a lot of encouragement. That was so helpful.”
Hatley's love of sports was passed on from her parents, Becky and Ronnie, and her never-wavering support from her grandmother, Verna Smith, who played basketball for legendary coach Alene Crabtree.
Ronnie Hatley was a starting center and guard for Frankie Vines’ 1980s football teams; mom Becky played for John Grant’s Lady Airedales in the mid-’80s.
“My mom and dad come to literally every single game I play; my nana, too,” Hatley said. “They've been such a huge part of my sports life, even before Alma with club volleyball. My mom coached me in little league basketball..”
As for Senior Day? Each one was different.
"It's very emotional," Hatley said. "I think back to volleyball; it's my favorite sport — the one I enjoy the most. So, I was very upset about that, because that's the (sport) I've continued to do the longest. That was very hard for me, but I just pushed those feelings away, because I still had basketball — I knew I was still going to play in the arena and I was still going to be on a team.”
Last week, on the heels of a winless soccer season, one in which Hatley played flawlessly night in and night out, Hatley thought back to grade school.
“I remember coming to basketball games and seeing the older kids wearing that uniform, even seeing my brother on the court for warmups, and they felt so old and so cool,” Hatley said. “I really don’t know how to describe it.
“Knowing that every little kid may look up to you, it’s such a big deal.”
Never one to shy away from asking those athletes who may have passed on one sport to concentrate on another, just as Hatley did her sophomore year when she opted to put all her efforts into volleyball, Mann reached out one final time last summer.
The girl in the No. 19 jersey is glad he did.
"We're trying to build our culture,” Mann said. “It's not about beating Russellville in February, it's about the memories along the way.”
Mann believes Hatley might have played beyond high school had she played basketball her sophomore and junior seasons.
Volleyball coach Kim Weaver isn’t convinced she’s done with volleyball, either.
“When I found out she’s going to UAFS (to college), I pulled out my phone and texted Jane (UAFS volleyball coach Jane Seargent),” Weaver said. “Hey, I think she can play somewhere!”
“Knowing that I had the opportunity with every sport to experience that, it does mean a lot, especially with each Alma program,”Hatley said. “It’s made me a stronger person and a stronger player because of the emphasis the coaches put into it — being a family means something.”
There are no immediate plans to build a bronze statue of Sidney Hatley along the front lawn on the sprawling Alma campus. Not that kids like Hatley and hundred before her aren’t deserving.
Everybody, at some point, has to say goodbye.
"I guess I'm still processing it," Hatley said. "It's weird to think that I'm not playing sports anymore."
No rest for the weary
Hatley’s contribution to Alma athletics started with volleyball, her bread and butter sport. And, because she had talked herself into playing basketball last summer, expected to be done with athletics in late February.
Then Sturdivant reached out.
“Before we knew she was coming out, we were looking at rotating Magalie Higgins and freshman Abbi Hayden in the goal until Sidney was encouraged to come out and try soccer,” the coach said. “From that point, her hard work and abilities in the goal allowed us to focus on our other two young ladies working as field players. Sidney will be very hard to replace next season, but I am so proud of her and that we were able to have her play goalkeeper her senior year.”
"I did know that I was going to play basketball because I had decided that before summer, but I had no idea I was going to play soccer," Hatley said. "When Courtney Bates was still at Alma, she kind of jokingly invited me and some other friends to try out for soccer."
Hatley's face lit up. But not the way you would expect.
"I was like, 'Oh, it's not for me!' But, toward the end of basketball season, that's when a lot of girls on the team and coach Sturdivant actually came to me and said you should actually play,” Hatley said. "The closer we got to soccer, I went to a couple of practices to see how things were, and that's when he (Sturdivant) talked to me seriously about trying it."
Ten games into the Lady Airedales’ basketball season, Hatley was awarded a starting nod during Alma’s trip to Dardanelle. And, while the Lady Airedales had no trouble beating the Sand Lizards that night (43-27), Hatley turned an ankle.
“I was so happy that she came back after that,” Mann said. “Not just because of basketball, but what she brought to the team.”
Two months later, despite falling short of their ultimate goal of reaching the playoffs, Hatley and the Lady Airedales celebrated Senior Day.
"Basketball was really hard,” Hatley said. “I only played for one year but I got really close to the girls. The team atmosphere that we had was amazing. It was sad to leave that, but then I was like, 'Oh yeah, I still have soccer.'
"With each sport, I just jumped to the next (season)."
Despite her no-fear approach to soccer, Hatley’s last team sport of the 2020-21 wasn’t anything like basketball, where she easily picked up where she had left off a couple of years earlier.
Instead, in a matter of weeks, Hatley became a seasoned goalie.
“Hands down, Sidney is the best goalkeeper I've ever had on a team,” Sturdivant said. “She plays with confidence, she leads and sets the example for the rest of the girls with her encouragement and work ethic.”
Per assistant coach Chelsie Sturdivant, Hatley ranks No. 1 in Arkansas for saves with a 74 percent of saves on shots on goal.
By mid-March, as the Lady Airedales were treading water to just stay afloat, Hatley routinely kept her team in every match with one diving save after another. In all, she finished the season with 177 saves.
“To anyone that doesn’t know her or has never seen her play, they would have no idea that she had never been in the goal before this season, or that this was the first time she’d ever been a part of any soccer team,” Sturdivant said. “She plays beyond her year of experience.
“I credit a lot of this to the encouragement and support she gets from her parents in everything she does, and from all of her other sports coaches in volleyball and basketball.”