The winds of change are continuing to blow at Thomas Sumter Academy. It started when Brannon Tidwell as hired was the school’s football head football coach at the beginning of the summer. Since then, he also became the school’s athletic director, while former AD Tanner Brunson transitioned into being the assistant athletic director as well as remaining the girls basketball head coach.
This week, the school also announced two new head coaches. Terry Anton will be the new baseball coach this spring, while also serving on Tidwell’s football coaching staff as the offensive coordinator. Margo Deyling will also take over a spring sport as the softball head coach.
The baseball coaching hire was easy for Tidwell, who has worked with Anton dating back to their time together at Cardinal Newman. Anton was also the baseball head coach at Cardinal Newman where he helped revive the program, taking the Cardinals from a 5-win team to region champions and state semifinalists in SCISA.
“Terry was an easy choice. We have a big background starting in 2012, coaching together at Cardinal Newman,” said Tidwell. “I saw him take a team from five wins to region champs. I think the world of him. I think he’s got a great demeanor for coaching in this day and age.”
Anton said he’s a baseball coach first and foremost, and he’s excited to bring the success he had at Cardinal Newman over to Thomas Sumter.
“I’m a baseball guy by trade, that’s kind of my upbringing on sports, I played it through as a kid and through college. I had the opportunity to rebuild a program at Cardinal Newman that was in a similar position. I saw the same opportunity here at Thomas Sumter, and I’m looking forward to giving these kids a program they can be proud of.”
The coaching change at Thomas Sumter didn’t come with a firing. Jamey Lisenby served as the head coach last season and told Tidwell he wanted to step back and watch his son, Ethan, during his senior year at TSA. That provided a great opportunity for Anton to step in.
“Jamey Lisenby came up to me and said, ‘My son, Ethan, is going to be a senior. If you can find somebody that can take this and run with it, I want to be a dad,’ ” said Tidwell. “It’s not like we’re trying to force Jamie out or anything like that. Jamey and myself and Terry, we talk all the time and have a great relationship, so he did a good job, but he’s ready to move on
Anton also has the benefit of getting to meet a lot of his baseball players early. Several of the players he’ll coach on the diamond are on the football team, so he’s had the chance to build those relationships. He’s also had a chance to see some of them play for the Dalzell-Shaw Jets in the South Carolina American League this summer.
“You’ve got to set a vision for these kids that there can be a better way and there can be a successful way,” said Anton. “It’s not always about wins and losses, it’s about building better kids and better kids will build better teams. Fortunately, a lot of those kids are already playing football, so we get to set that stamp in the fall and it should carry into the spring.”
Tidwell also looked to Cardinal Newman when he was looking for a softball coach. Deyling was a player at Cardinal Newman during Tidwell’s time at the school and was a star for the Cardinals. She absolutely demolished the school record for home runs as a senior with 24 bombs, 11 more than the previous record. Deyling doesn’t have experience as a head coach, but Tidwell brought in Jennifer Caruth as an assistant to help fill in any gaps with coaching experience.
“When I got here and got the lay of the land, Tanner and his sister were going to try to be the softball coaches last year, and he was just doing it to try to keep it together. That was the first thing we tried to tackle when I got in a couple of months ago. This program has a proud tradition and we’ve got to get it back. The first thing I thought of was Margo and how good she was at Cardinal Newman and I reached out to her, some of the coaches who coached her, some of her teammates and everyone said it was a home run get, no pun intended.”
While Deyling doesn’t have experience in coaching, she’s really looking forward to resurrecting the softball program at Thomas Sumter. The Lady Generals played in three straight state championships series, winning two of them, just five years ago. Since then, Thomas Sumter has struggled to field a team, as it didn’t have enough players to fill out a roster before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the spring season this year. Deyling hopes her passion for the sport will help bring girls back to the program.
“I know Thomas Sumter had a run there, and they were doing really well and then they had a few things happen and the players kind of fell off and the team kind of fell off. It kind of reminded me of a year I had at Cardinal Newman,” said Deyling “We lost eight girls and they were all starters and everyone was kind of like, ‘What do we do now,’ and we kind of had to rebuild ourselves.
“I want to be able to take this opportunity where they’re not doing the best and see if I’m able to put my abilities and my passion for it and kind of help turn things around and see if we can get them back to winning championships and getting girls back to their passion.”
Passion for softball is a common theme for Deyling. After graduating from Cardinal Newman in 2013, she attended Wofford, where there was no formal softball program. Since then, she’s been looking for the right outlet for her passion for the sport and is looking forward to that outlet being at Thomas Sumter.
“Not even having a full team shows that one of the things that we could be lacking is someone who is as passionate about the sport as the girls are,” said Deyling. “One of the things that I really want to focus on is bringing the love of the game back. I know that on the teams that I’ve played on, the reason that the girls came to play or people came to watch the girls play is because the girls were driven and the people supporting them were also very driven.
“I know that may not be the reason things kind of fell apart or girls might not be trying out, but that might be part of the reason, so I want to use my passion and my experience to bring the joy and excitement of playing the game back to the team.”
Deyling also has the benefit of age. Being a younger head coach, who was in the same position as these girls seven years ago, makes it easier to relate to a new squad at Thomas Sumter. Deyling also can relate to a lot of players because she wasn’t a career softball player. She picked up the sport in eighth grade and still had a ton of success at Cardinal Newman and she hopes her experiences will help draw people to Thomas Sumter softball.
“I definitely think that relatability is a big deal,” said Deyling. “I played this sport and I didn’t play very long. I played soccer my entire life until middle school and that’s when I switched over to softball, so it’s not like I expect these players to have tons and tons of experience, but if someone is driven and passionate, I want to take my experience and my passion and try to mesh it with theirs and see if we can pull something great out of it.”