BENTON -- In the last five seasons, Kelly's baseball team has reached the district title game four times.
Eleven players were offered baseball scholarships in that span, and six were named all-state. In 1997, the Hawks finished third in the state.
Under the direction of Mike Scott, Kelly built quite a tradition in the spring, going 97-63 in his seven years at the helm.
But the school board elected to not renew his contract last year, hiring 24-year-old John Gant to coach the team.
It is his first organized coaching job.
"Kelly has a strong tradition in baseball," said Gant. "It's a baseball town and a baseball area, which is great because I love the sport. I'm very excited about the team. It's a great community and a great school."
Gant is quick to distance himself from the decision to remove Scott.
"I haven't really gotten into the whole political background of that deal," he explained. "I'm not sure of the entire situation. I just wanted to come in and do the best I could with what I had. At first, I thought getting the team's respect might be tough because I'm a little bit younger, but the kids are great. Actually, I think we have a better understanding of each other because our age difference isn't as big. We see eye to eye on a lot of things."
Born in Wisconsin, Gant and his family moved to Bloomfield when he was 10. He played baseball and basketball for the Wildcats, graduating in 1996.
After high school he attended Southeast Missouri State. He graduated in 2000, then joined the National Guard.
"After I got through basic training, I started applying for jobs around the area," said Gant. "I was contacted by a few schools, but Kelly had the best offer."
He also teaches math at the school.
On the field, the Hawks have stumbled out of the gates this season, losing their first two games to Chaffee and New Madrid County Central. Kelly held a 3-0 lead on Chaffee and a 7-1 lead on NMCC, but were unable to hold on in either game. Still, Gant has seen positive signs in both losses.
"We have all the talent in the world, we just have to put it together," said Gant. "I've been really impressed with some of the things the kids have done. I hate to project where we will be three months from now, but there is no reason this team couldn't compete with any other team in our district. I hope we can put it together pretty soon."
Kelly is stacked with seniors, led by Drew Moore, Tyler Schlosser, Garrett Stricker, Barry Zeigler, Derek Wheatley, Chase Deason and Jason Kell.
Juniors Major Burger and Jared Staggs also add talent to the lineup.
"We've got a good program here," said Gant. "It just needs some work. I really feel we're going to come around and have a really strong team."
The Hawks will be back in action on Tuesday at Dexter, then will host Poplar Bluff on Wednesday, followed by a road game at Charleston Thursday.