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Weatherford steps down after three decades at CAAA

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By Sean Arnold

Wayne Weatherford can remember when baseball was the only sport available for Chiefland youth. While he oversaw the evolution of the Chiefland Area Athletic Association (CAAA) – an umbrella organization that houses baseball, softball, football, basketball and soccer leagues at Charles Strickland Recreational Park – that became a relic of the past.

Weatherford officially stepped down as president of CAAA in April after serving three decades on the board. Looking back, he’s most proud of helping facilitate more access to more sports for young Chiefland athletes.

“Being able to offer sports for children in our area, and knowing we can make a difference in their lives, that’s what meant the most to me,” Weatherford said. “Anytime you ride by Strickland Park, there is something going on.

“I’m thrilled because I was born and raised here and I’ve seen it when we didn’t have the programs.”

Weatherford is fresh off his retirement from the Association so he still feels the shock of it after investing so much of his – and his family’s – time at the Park. His friends who are used to seeing him at the Park are also struggling to get used to the idea.

“It’s been a big, big eye opener already,” Weatherford said. “I’ve had a lot of friends text me, ‘Wayne, you’re not here! Where are you at? Are you all right?’

“It’ll hit me later. I’m supposed to be at the park and I’m not there. I think everybody has a time in their life when they say, ‘Okay, when is enough?’ It’s just time. I just think it’s time for new blood.”

The death of Chiefland Mayor Betty Walker in late February hit home for Weatherford and played a big part in his recent decision. The two were good friends and often encouraged each other to slow down for the sake of their respective health.

“She was like my momma,” Weatherford said. “She kept telling me, ‘Wayne, you’ve got to get out of it.’ And I kept telling her, ‘You’ve got to quit. You’ve got to slow down.’

“She was very instrumental in the sports program,” Weatherford added. “She guided me a little bit on anything that had to do with the city.”

Weatherford said he’s proud of how the City of Chiefland included him on any issues pertaining to the Park. “It made me feel so special because I felt like I was a part of them,” he said.

Weatherford and his wife Lena were coaching at Chiefland High School – first basketball, then softball – when he got involved with the youth program. He was motivated by what he saw at the high school level, as girls struggled to adjust to the transition to fast pitch softball.

“It hadn’t developed in this area,” Weatherford said. “We were new, fresh, everyone was trying to learn the sport.”

Once it got off the ground, things really took off. Weatherford coached two state champions in 12U Babe Ruth Softball and helmed three straight teams that represented Florida in the Southeast Regional tournament from 2000 to 2002. Those players, which included Weatherford’s daughter, Megan, would set the foundation for a Class 3A state final four Chiefland High School team in 2007 as well as a 2008 team that lost just one game. Another CAAA softball team, an 8U club not coached by Weatherford, also represented Florida in the Southeast in 2001.

Weatherford stepped down from coaching the CMHS softball team in 2017, after five final fours and three state titles. He said his connection to the high school garnered him more respect from the younger players.

“They think you know more than really do,” Weatherford said with a laugh.

CAAA hosted a state T-Ball tournament for 15 years, and Weatherford and his family ran an annual Halloween carnival for close to that long, starting after the 9-11 attacks in 2001. He was the state president of Babe Ruth Softball for four years.

Weatherford can remember when the league moved from McCallum Park to Strickland. “I’m so proud of the improvements at Strickland Park,” he said. “We’ve got a conference room full of memorabilia. It’s just a beautiful park.”

Weatherford’s late mother, Gloria, ran the concession stand back during the transition, dishing out her beef skewers and homemade slushies. Family and CAAA are intricately linked for Weatherford. “My son used to tell everybody we own the park because we were there so much,” he said.

The new board elected Ryan Hinote the new president Lee Bell the vice president. Both have extensive ties to CAAA. Bell is the basketball and football commissioner and Hinote has been the football commissioner.

Weatherford admits his own soft-heartedness got in the way of what might’ve been best for CAAA at times, as he refused to turn anyone away, even if they couldn’t afford the fees.

Weatherford said he was fortunate to have so many big-hearted collaborators at CAAA. “There have been some tremendous board members – Brandy Horne, Prentice Spann, Oz Barker, Jimmy Anderson, Charles Brock and Donna Brock, the names go on and on of those who did their part in our league.”

Nowadays, Weatherford gets a kick out of meeting the children of the players he used to coach as children.

“All the kids I got to know, it made my life,” he said. “A lot of people have different things they want to do, hunting and fishing and things like that, and I picked this. That’s what I wanted to do, forever.”