As a first-year softball coach who had made a career of coaching boys basketball before hanging it up in that sport in 2020, Joe Hampton took to Lewis County's first-base coaching box this past spring uncertain what to expect.
It ended in Lexington, with the Lions, who had never so much as played in a region tournament final before this season, in the state's Final Four.
But following the philosophy that multiple things can be true at the same time, Hampton had mixed feelings at the end of Lewis County's sensational season, its best ever at 23-9.
"Once the season got started, I liked it a lot better than I thought I would," Hampton said, "but after the success we had as a team, and as far as we went, I felt like I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I should have."
Hampton -- as well as two of the Lions' three assistants -- let that feeling sit for a couple of months before deciding for certain to step down. That became official this week when the job was posted on Tuesday.
"I'm at the point that I've coached long enough, and retired," said the 56-year-old Hampton. "I can't compliment my staff enough, what all they did, and even relieving some of the time off of me that it took, but it still takes a lot of time. I'm retired and I just want to be able to enjoy that time more."
To that end, Hampton and his family planned a June vacation to Florida, making sure to slot it behind softball season. Problem was, the spring sports season was pushed back as a COVID-19 measure, and the Lions not only made it to John Cropp Stadium but won their first two games.
So Hampton headed for the Sunshine State after Lewis County's June 11 win over Wolfe County and squeezed in four days of a planned 10-day trip, he said, before heading back to Vanceburg to prepare for the Lions' quarterfinal game against Boyle County on June 18.
While the larger Lewis County community loved every minute of that State run, including a big-time win over the Rebels before falling to Daviess County in the semifinals, Hampton has had enough of tailoring his schedule to the rigidity of the sports calendar.
"It takes a lot of time, takes a lot away from the family, and I just felt like I've done that long enough to turn it over and let someone else do it," Hampton said.
That didn't mean it was an easy decision. Hampton said the roaring success didn't make the change tough as much as the fact that Lewis County could return nearly everyone from that run.
"Having 90% of your team back, that made it difficult," he said. "That's why I wanted to take some time, make sure the decision wasn't just based on some emotions there at the end of the year."
But eventually, Hampton and assistants Dan Stevenson and Trayla Liles confirmed that conclusion, he said. Hampton expects that assistant Marty Cole -- the father of ace pitcher Emily Cole -- will return and recommended such, he said.
Hampton said he has already assembled somewhere between a third and half of Lewis County's schedule for next year and extended goodwill, to that end, toward his successor and the administration.
"I'd be glad to help (Lewis County principal) Jack (Lykins) and any of them," Hampton said, "because I had a lot of support from the administration."
Lions co-athletic director Josh Hughes returned the sentiment.
"How lucky we were to have one of the best coaches of young people sitting down the road ready to take on a challenge," Hughes said. "Coach always knew how to get the best of his players, and that was no different switching sports. His coaching helped give our school a great run last season and I have zero doubt we would not have made it that far without his leadership.
"In addition, we wish Joe the best in retirement, and he leaves huge shoes to fill."
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