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End of an era

The nets will still be up at Charlie Dalton Gym this fall. The sounds of volleyballs bouncing will fill the air. Everything will look and sound the same, but without the coach that helped mold the program, everything will be different.
Franklin Fisher formally retired from the position of Warren County High School volleyball coach this month, ending an 18-year stint that saw the Lady Pioneers establish themselves as one of the premier programs in the state.
Over the course of his career, coach Fisher presided over 343 Lady Pioneer victories, most coming in the last decade as the Lady Pioneers evolved into a contending team in District 6-AAA.
Coach Fisher leaves after his team won 42 games last season, the most by any Warren County High School team in the school’s history. It was a season that built upon years of hard work and determination Fisher helped add to his program and the culmination of a nine-year run that saw the Lady Pioneers average 26 wins per year.
This year’s team, which graduated six seniors who won a school-record 122 games in their career, won the lone district title under coach Fisher when the Lady Pioneers ended a 27-year losing streak to the Cookeville Lady Cavaliers. It followed up back-to-back trips to the regional tournament in 2010 and 2011, the only two trips Fisher’s teams would make to that level.
Going out on a high note seemed like the most fitting ending for the coach most affectionally refer to as “Fish.” Even after all the years of being the lone mainstay of the most successful program at WCHS, coach Fisher credited many others for his success.
“I’ve been fortunate to have great support over the years,” said Fisher. “From the early contributors like Dale Stubblefield and Charles Nunley, who gave their advice and time, and the coaches who gave me so much insight. White County coach Lynn Cannon, Tullahoma coach Bill Albaugh, former Lady Pioneer coach Anne Eades and my former football coach Boots Donnelly helped me tremendously.
“I’d also like to thank Tennessee Tech coach John Blair, who helped put on clinics for my team the last 10 years. And a big thanks to Jim Luna for beginning the program in 1985.”
After spending years coaching various sports, including serving as the head football and softball coach at Warren County High School, coach Fisher took over the volleyball program in 1995. Fisher had a background in the sport, having played while at MTSU on a club team, but his reason for taking over the volleyball team was his two young daughters.
“The main motivation was to develop a solid program in case my two daughters, Mary Kate and Blair, might want to play when they got older,” said Fisher. “I’m so thankful for them and my wife Leanne for allowing me to coach a sport that was time consuming, but very enjoyable.
“If I was successful in this sport it was because of the work ethic instilled in me by my parents, Dr. J.F. and Ann Fisher. Also, Patti Nunley was crucial in the development of my teaching skills by training me to be a swimming instructor for the Red Cross at an early age.”
Mary Kate and Blair were each part of the teams which had the most success under coach Fisher. Mary Kate was on the first Lady Pioneer team to win more than 30 games in a season in 2008, while Blair was on last year’s team that set a new school record with 42 victories.
Both daughters loved playing for their dad, a man they believe inherited many new daughters during the process.
“Playing volleyball for my dad was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” said Mary Kate. “He had a ball in my hand at the age of 2 and from then on I was obsessed - with volleyball and him. I will never be able to thank him enough for sharing the sport he loves with me.
“It’s a blessing to know how other people appreciate what a wonderful man my dad is.”
Blair added, “My daddy has a big heart and turned our team into a family because he truly does care for us.
“People always asked if I got special treatment, but I feel like he treated me the same way as he did at home. It was the other players who got special treatment because he treated them like they were his daughters too.”
Winning didn’t start immediately for Fisher as the team went 4-9 in his first season in 1995. Focusing on the fundamentals and building a schedule to give his team more games to compete, the Lady Pioneers improved to 24-9 by 1998.
Coach Fisher believes the team didn’t really take off until WCMS got a program going under the direction of Farrah Griffith. With time to train younger Lady Pioneers before their time at Warren County High School, skills were improved and winning became more frequent.
Talented players seemed to come through the program and make their mark, with the class of 2008 being the first to graduate with over 100 wins. The class of 2012 picked up the torch and ran with it, led by the most decorated player in coach Fisher’s tenure. Caroline McKinley was a three-time All-District 6-AAA selection, two-time all-region selection and the program’s first district player of the year when she won the award last November.
McKinley was one of the many great players who Fisher feels he was lucky enough to have coached during his time.
“We had a lot of great players, as evidenced by our success over the last nine years,” said Fisher. “All were great athletes, but they were also very smart, tough and dedicated players.”
Fisher also wanted to thank all the support he got from helpers with the program, like Mary Greer, Anthony Malone, Jeff McKinley and David Upton. “All these people made my job a lot easier. David and Jeff were instrumental in the most recent run of success.”
While Fisher will stay on as a consultant with the volleyball program, the man with the glowing green clipboard, pierced ear he got after challenging his team to reach regionals and glaring stare that was always followed with a comforting smile will no longer call the shots for the Lady Pioneers.
Fisher gives up the title of head coach, but will keep the titles of devoted dad, loving husband and talented teacher. He’ll also gain one title - coaching legend.

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