Woody Hunt: Mentoring National Champions
Woody Hunt is a campus legend. In more than 30 seasons as Cumberland University’s Head Coach of Baseball, Hunt has led the Bulldogs to win three NAIA National Championships and 18 conference championships, producing 59 NAIA All-Americans and training more than 70 players who would later sign professional contracts. His is a legacy written in the victories of his team and the ever-improving baseball facilities of Cumberland’s campus.
But the greatest contribution that Hunt makes to the University may be the mentoring he provides his players with every day.
“Seeing players learn and develop is my favorite part of coaching,” Hunt said. “I like helping players mature. I try to teach them responsibility, how to be better players, and the value of hard work. I don’t think about mentoring. I just do it because it’s part of my personality.”
Since arriving at Cumberland more than three decades ago, Hunt has demonstrated that commitment every day as a trusted coach and mentor. A native of Danville, Kentucky, Hunt developed a love for baseball from an early age, acquiring a lifelong fascination with the strategy and facilities of the game.
Hunt brought that love for baseball to Cumberland in the late 1970s, starting out as an assistant coach. Taking over as head coach in 1982, Hunt played a pivotal role in expanding the then-small baseball program, which lacked many of the facilities his players now take for granted.
It is a time the head coach remembers with a smile.
“It was really a pleasure starting out,” Hunt said. “I got so wrapped up in making the program better and had an endless passion to make it the best I could. We were very small, with a small budget. But we just made things work and earned our way.”
Slowly but surely, Hunt and others helped expand Cumberland’s baseball program, transforming the Bulldogs into the national champions they are today. With Hunt’s leadership, the team would go on to compete in 11 NAIA World Series and win conference championships in the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference, TranSouth Conference, and the Mid-South Conference.
The team’s greatest achievements, however, were almost certainly their two NAIA National Championship victories in 2004 and 2010.
“You couldn’t describe the feeling when we won,” Hunt said. “It was the ultimate athletic rush. It’s an overwhelming feeling to know that you’re national champions. Seeing the joy that it brought the players was incredible. It drives me because I want to experience that again.”
Hunt has also brought profound changes to the team’s facilities, seeking out new ways to transform the University’s baseball grounds and equipment every year. Cumberland’s baseball program now boasts extremely modern facilities, including the Ernest L. Stockton Field, Woody Hunt Stadium, Jeanette C. Rudy Clubhouse, and Benton Jennings Indoor Hitting Complex.
“In the beginning, we had no clubhouse, no dressing room, and no fencing,” Hunt said. “Each year, we’ve gotten something different. It’s been a remarkable change.”
Hunt’s efforts in transforming the team and its surroundings have not gone unrecognized. Hunt has been honored with a host of awards and honors over the years, including 17 Coach of the Year awards, seven Southeast Region Coach of the Year awards, and the 2010 NAIA Coach of the Year award.
The head coach is quick to attribute those successes not only to his own skill, however, but also to his team and assistant coaches.
“Any awards you get are a reflection of the program and the people and players you work with,” Hunt said. “Everyone plays a part in it. I’m just thankful for the opportunity Cumberland gave me many years ago to do this.”
Hunt had used that opportunity to help establish Cumberland University as a baseball powerhouse. Now looking towards future national championships, the popular coach still approaches each new season with the same vigor, arriving early and leaving late almost every day.
For Hunt, seeing the development of individual players—and the victories they achieve—is still the heart of the game.
“Coaching at Cumberland has been a big part of my life. There’s no question,” Hunt said. “When you get wrapped up in a program, one year becomes two, two becomes five, and before you know it, many years have passed. The drive for me to make our players better people has made me a better person. It’s all about the continuing passion to be the best.”