Following 19 years and more than 450 victories, Mickey Harper is leaving the place he's called home for the better part of his career to tackle a new challenge.
In just under two decades as the face of the Chapel Hill softball, Harper made the emotional decision to step down from his post as the program’s only coach to accept the same position at Bremen in Carroll County.
Harper, who guided Chapel Hill to the Class AAAAA championship in 2015 to go along with four other top-five finishes in Columbus, has been with the program since the school opened its doors in 1999.
He said when reflecting on that tremendous run, it all goes back to the players that have come through the program.
“You coach that long at one place, you're going to win and lose,” Harper said. “You hope to win more than you lose, but it's the relationship with the kids and to see them be successful and go on and hopefully use some of the things that you taught them through the sport.”
And the people who mattered most when making this particular career move were his wife and children.
Harper and his wife, Stephanie, have three children — Micah (10), Sadie Jane (8) and SelahBelle (4) — and their daughters are both heavily involved in gymnastics, competing out of West Georgia Gymnastics in Villa Rica.
The more his children began moving further into the west Georgia area with their activities, the more Harper really began to consider a career change.
"I always said that I would retire at Chapel Hill,” he said. “I had no reason to leave. But as you look at traffic and you look at being able to get to a lot of things, family-wise, it just wasn't a real good situation.”
Harper is also looking forward to living in a more rural area where he and his family can enjoy the open space and outdoors.
"We've been fortunate enough to buy a little piece of land out in Temple, which we were looking to raise our kids in a little bit more of an area where we can just get out and play,” Harper said.
Of course, there was also the pull of taking over the Blue Devil softball program that is fresh off a run to the Elite Eight in Class AAA this past season under Pointer.
With a loaded core of talent returning as the program moves back down to Class AA next year, the potential is there to build on that sustained success.
"You're in it this long, there's a lot of things about softball you can teach and use as teachable moments,” Harper said. “But there's a scoreboard in the outfield for a reason. You want to win and you want to compete.”
Harper also coached 16 seasons as the head baseball coach at Chapel Hill before stepping down two years ago in another family decision.
"Obviously, knowing that there is a solid foundation there, I know two former coaches with Lisa Phillips and Amy Pointer both are great, quality people that have taught great foundations,” he said. “There's great athletes. So knowing that you can step into a program and you're not having to start from scratch and the kids know how to win and have been successful played a huge part into the decision, as well."
Chapel Hill lost in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs this past season, but return several talented players. The next coach will inherit a group that has several underclassmen that have committed to Div. I programs.
Sentinel sports editor Derrick Mahone contributed to this article.