In 1999 Deron McDonald was a hometown boy coming home – to the other side of town.
But the 1988 graduate of Western Hills soon made a name for himself as the head baseball coach at Franklin County.
McDonald reached a milestone last week, collecting his 300th career victory as FCHS’ head coach when the Flyers defeated Henry Clay 5-3.
McDonald is quick to credit his players, assistant coaches, parents and boosters for his success, which began almost as soon as he took over the program.
The Flyers posted a 26-4 record in 1999, winning the first of seven district championships under McDonald.
“In the first year we got to the regional tournament and played Bryan Station,” he said. “At nine innings it was a tie ballgame, but that’s when the wheels fell off for us.
“But we turned the tables there. Winning the district our kids went to the region, and they learned they could compete with the Lexington schools that year.
“We had a very hard-working senior class that first year,” he added. “We started winning right off the bat. We moved people around at different positions, and some of our younger guys (including Jason Williams, Joe Cushingberry, Brandon McKee and Jon Bryan) were making big contributions.”
The seniors in McDonald’s first year were Eric Sherrow, Shawn Bailey, Jeremy Sheetinger, Jonathan Moore, Eli Roberts, Jonathan Parker, Ryan Gatewood and Brad Hardesty.
McDonald got his start in coaching at Waggener High School in Louisville, serving as an assistant coach in both baseball and football for five years.
It was his first teaching job after graduating from Morehead, but McDonald and his wife, Stacy, were anxious to return to Frankfort.
“My wife and I are both from here,” McDonald said. “We’re both graduates of Western Hills, our parents live here. It’s home to us. We decided we’d move back here if we got the opportunity and start a family, and things worked out.”
McDonald took a job teaching business at FCHS for the 1998-99 school year and took over as baseball coach that spring. Stacy McDonald transferred from a law firm to Toyota, where she works in human resources. The McDonalds have two sons, Jordan, 10, and Cameron, 7.
McDonald spent one year as an assistant football coach at FCHS.
“I liked coaching football,” he said. “The difference with football and baseball is in baseball you practice for three weeks and then play just about every day, and in football there’s a whole lot of practice time coaching with very little game time.
“When it came down to giving one up I was a head baseball coach and assistant football coach, so that was an easy decision.”
And it proved to the right one. In addition to the seven district championships, the Flyers have been district runners-up four other years under McDonald.
In 2001 FCHS won the regional and sectional championships and advanced to the final four at the University of Kentucky.
“I was so young to coaching,” McDonald said. “It was only my third year as head coach, and I never really thought of making it out of the region.
“Things fell into place, and once we made it out of the region and went to the sectional, I was so focused on who we were playing and getting scouting reports.”
In the final four the Flyers faced Boyd County and lost 10-4. Boyd County went on to win the state championship.
“The one thing I wish I’d done differently is I wish we’d gone to practice at UK,” McDonald said.
The Flyers had that opportunity, but the weather was extremely hot that week and McDonald and his staff decided to give the team an extra day of rest.
“That team had shown no signs of being distracted or intimidated, but we didn’t get used to that environment,” McDonald said. “We walked on the field at UK and saw all those people, and I think we were shell-shocked for the first two innings.”
But that season remains one of his favorites.
“Definitely 2001 and making it to the final four was one of the top ones,” he said. “The other one is when we won the district at Frankfort High and the paper put a picture of me holding my two boys right after the game. That’s another one that’s pretty special to me.”
The 2001 team went 32-12. In his first 13 years the Flyers have had just one losing record (14-16 in 2011), one .500 season (15-15 in 2005), and they averaged 22 wins per season.
This season, McDonald’s 14th as head coach, the Flyers are 18-7 and ranked 17th in the state.
“I knew we were going to be good,” he said. “Basically other than our pitching staff we had everyone coming back, but they’ve exceeded my expectations. We’re 11-2 in the region and have beaten five or six top 20 teams.
“The kids play well as a team and they play hard for us. They hit the baseball. They never quit on a pitch, an at-bat, a ground ball. It’s 100 percent effort all the time.
“They care about each other, and they’ll do everything they can possibly do to get a win. No one is looking after himself, they’re thinking about the team. They’re a year stronger, a year wiser.”
While at WHHS, McDonald played baseball and football. His favorite sport was whichever one was in season.
“I liked playing football during football season,” he said. “I played two years of basketball and after I broke my thumb that pretty much took care of my basketball career.
“I played baseball all spring and summer. Most kids would play a sport for three or four months and then go on to the next sport. Now most kids play one sport year round. We didn’t have such things as fall baseball or spring football.”
McDonald and assistant coach David Cammack were both catchers in high school, and every catcher who has played for McDonald at FCHS, with the exception of one, has gone on to play college baseball.
Cammack and Richie Tyre are varsity assistant coaches. Jeff Wilhoite is the head junior varsity coach, and his assistants are Revel Moore and Terry Tackett.
“The coaching staff we have now, everyone gets along great, everyone knows their roles,” McDonald said. “David handles every little bit of pitching, Richie sets the defense and works with the defense the entire game.
“All I do is make up the lineup and coach third base. It’s the same thing with the JV. Jeff Wilhoite is the head coach, and Revel and Terry have special areas they’re in charge of. It works well.
“When I first became head coach I tried to control everything, and by the time the game was over I was worn out mentally.”
Other people who have worked as assistant coaches with McDonald are Daniel Clark, Kevin Martin, Randy Blevins, Tony McCurdy, Brian Foster, Joey Thacker, Mike Hockensmith, Jimmy Todd and Mark Bailey.
McDonald’s coaching philosophy centers around using his team’s most consistent attribute.
“One thing we’ve had is speed most of the time,” he said. “Year in and year out it’s hard to compete with the Lexington schools, but we like to use our speed on offense and defense, try to be creative, try to score some runs, try to steal some runs.
“Some years it backfires, but mostly it works to be aggressive with the bats. A year like this we can play small ball and win, or we can stand at the plate and hit the ball.”
And no matter what his team does, McDonald has gotten over any discomfort he may have had coaching against his alma mater, now his cross-town rival.
“I didn’t think anything of it, but when we went to Western Hills for that first district game I heard a lot of traitor stuff,” he said. “After I got that first district win I didn’t hear much after that.
“It felt a little different, but the bottom line is no matter what you do in life someone pays you to do it and someone doesn’t, and I go with the one who pays you.”