Speegle named 2009 Athlete of the Year

Published 2:32 am Saturday, May 23, 2009

Shelby Speegle’s demeanor can be confusing for those who do not know him. His approach to the game he loves — baseball — could easily be mislabeled as “cocky.”

But that is not an apt description for the Demopolis High senior.

Speegle does not think he is better than his opponents, he just expects to find a way to beat them.

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“If you had to describe Shebly Speegle in one word, it would be ‘winner,’” Demopolis High School athletic director and head football coach Tom Causey says. “He’s going to come to work everyday. He gives you his best everyday and he does it in respect of his coaches and teammates.”

Speegle was a starter and regular contributor on the Demopolis football team at the offensive A-back position.

“Shelby was a receiver for his first three years and we went through and asked him to make the move (to A-back),” Causey explains.

“He is a selfless kid and did what was best for the team.”

The move proved beneficial as Speegle scored four rushing and four receiving touchdowns for the Tigers in 2008.

However, his career on the gridiron ended a few minutes before the Demopolis season did as he suffered a knee injury in the second half against Carver in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs that sent him to the sidelines and threatened his senior baseball season.

After initially being told that he would not walk on a baseball diamond in 2009, Speegle’s prognosis improved slightly when he was told that he would be able to play if his team made a run into the playoffs.

But Speegle had other plans. Before undergoing surgery on the ligament, he began telling family, friends, coaches and teammates that he would take the mound for game one against Jackson on Feb. 16.

“When he told me he was going to make it back for the first game, I had no doubt in my mind he was going to do it,” Causey said.

Then came Feb. 16. With classes out of session in observance of President’s Day, the Tigers were set to take the field for a double-header against defending Class 4A state champion Jackson.

It was just before 11 a.m. when the Demopolis public address announcer began reading off the names of the Tiger starters one by one.

Finally No. 3 took the mound; ignoring the advice of some, defying the doubt in his own mind and satisfying a personal goal.

“It’s impressive when somebody else does it,” Tony says of the feat. “It is a little special when your own son does it.”

Just 87 days removed from suffering a knee injury that threatened his senior season, the southpaw surrendered four hits, one walk and no earned runs over five innings of work to pick up a win.

As the season continued, he continued to impress; going 8-3 while assembling an ERA just over 2.00.

“To me, it’s the most challenging sport out there. You’ve got to be strong in all aspects of the game. I think he enjoys that challenge,” Tony says of his son’s passion for the game. “I think he just loves to compete.”

The drive and work ethic with which Speegle approached his rehab also evidenced itself on the gridiron, on the diamond and in the classroom.

“I guess it’s natural,” Shelby says of an approach that landed him a 30 on the ACT and a full-tuition academic scholarship to the University of Alabama.

“The object in life is to be the best you can be at anything you do, whether it be in a field of work or a sport. Why would you want to do something if you don’t want to be the best at it. There is really no point. It’s just wasting time.”

With his academic future secured, Shelby now faces the next major challenge of his life when he attempts to make the Crimson Tide baseball team as a walk-on.

“That was always my goal in high school was to go play at a major school like an Alabama, an Auburn or a Mississippi State,” Shelby says.

“I’m not ready to give (baseball) up. I really want to keep playing.”