When Madelyn Pullum received an early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, she had the foresight to begrudgingly admit her childhood dream of playing collegiate softball was not going to come to fruition.
Yet, showcasing wisdom beyond her years, Pullum recalled the happenstance comment that someone had shared with her along her journey.
“Honestly, my high school years and being a part of those Creek Wood softball teams were the best years of my life,” said the 21-year-old Pullum. “I had an injury that prevented me from playing college softball. But I remembered one time I had a person tell me, ‘Coaching’s the next-best thing to playing.
“They weren’t lying. Last year, the middle school (softball) job came open, and I applied for it.”
The job – Charlotte Middle School – happened to be at Pullum’s former middle school and reflected a period of her life during which she further developed her love for softball.
She earned the head coaching post, and last spring she punctuated a fairly-tale debut campaign with the Tennessee Middle School Athletic Association softball championship.
Pullum also has been honored as the January recipient of the TSSAA Distinguished Service Award, one of just 10 people bestowed the honor for the 2023-24 academic year.
“Honestly, I think I was 19 when I applied for job, 20 when I started coaching,” Pullum said. “I was a college student, and I talked to my parents about it.
“They said it’s a big thing to take on while you’re still in college. But I just felt like this was an opportunity that may never come around again. I had played softball for Charlotte Middle School, and it was kind of a long process.
“But I got the job and just started immediately.”
The job, like the Charlotte-Creekwood system, has evolved as a family affair through the years. Madelyn’s sister, Sloan Williams, is her softball assistant, and Madelyn is Sloan’s assistant on the volleyball team.
In addition to the sisters’ state softball crown, they shared a runner-up finish in the TMSAA volleyball tournament – while youngest sister Lacey Beatey – played on both squads.
The youthful Pullum quickly bonded with her team, and the group stacked wins atop wins during their magical 2023 title journey.
“As the season kept going, we kept getting further and further and further,” Pullum said. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, we have the team!’ We were just able to keep them together, and keep them excited and happy. When we made it to the state tournament, I just had to step out on the field and take it in because I had been there as a player.
“I always told the girls, ‘I can’t win it for you. You’ve gotta go win it for yourself.’ They wanted it, and they crushed it at state tournament.”
Pullum has settled in and prepared for her next set of challenges atop the program. She has been enrolled in a fast-track program at Austin Peay, and similar to her coaching career, has emerged ahead of schedule for graduation; Pullum has secured a job in the Dickson County School System for the 2024-25 academic year.
She has dog-piled on the mound with her players as they celebrated that unprecedented state championship and prepared for the future.
“We got the girls’ state rings, and I was giving a speech about the rings,” she said. “Going into it, I knew I loved it, it is my passion. It’s at the top of the list for the things I love to do, to get to help these girls and be a part of their lives.
“After coaching the girls for one year, I told the parents and players, I’ll probably coach until I literally can’t walk anymore.”
TSSAA proudly salutes Madelyn Pullum as a Distinguished Service Award recipient.