An impressive Booneville teen is heading to ole miss to pitch for the lady Rebels softball team.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
A visit with 17-year-old Hallie Burns of Booneville uncovers some interesting details about the brown-eyed softball pitching phenom. While she’s dedicated to being the best she can be on the softball field, Burns balances sports, education and life’s extras like a pro.
As a little girl, Burns discovered her first passion which she pursued until fifth grade — gymnastics. She also found time for Park & Rec basketball, soccer and softball. But when her next-door-neighbor Madison Weatherbee introduced her to pitching, Burns found another passion. Her dad had reached out to Weatherbee to ask if she’d give his daughter pitching lessons.
“I remember vividly our first lesson,” said Weatherbee, now a 27-year-old English teacher at Booneville Middle School. “She showed up at the field with no cleats. She was wearing Chaco sandals for her first pitching lesson. And we went from there.”
Weatherbee, who played softball at BHS and for two years at Northeast Mississippi Community College, worked with Burns for several years. And though she has two young daughters, she still makes as many of Burns’ games as she possibly can.
“Hallie is always so excited, so happy doing whatever she’s doing,” Weatherbee said. “I have never seen her not smiling. She is like a little sister to me, and I’m so proud of her.”
Burns, a Booneville High School senior, is a self-proclaimed “big history buff.” She loves it. In fact, she was the recipient of the American History Award for the highest average in Advanced Placement history class. She is also a member of the math, science and Spanish clubs and a member of the Spanish Honor Society.
In addition to academics, Burns stays busy as a member of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and Fellowship of Christian Athletes since ninth grade. Burns is senior class president, was homecoming queen, a National Honor Society member and made 29 on her ACT.
She loves shoes and admits to having a Nike fetish, owning at least 40 pairs. Her favorite food is crab legs, and she’s not at all ashamed to admit she once ate 120 legs at one sitting. And it should come as no surprise the pitcher who on Sept. 1, 2021, committed to play softball for Ole Miss after high school is partial to the color powder blue.
Burns is laid-back and patient and seems to believe good things will come to those who wait. Nothing serves as better proof of these qualities than the way she dealt with the recruiting process.
College coaches may begin talking with recruits on Sept. 1 of their junior year in high school, which means if a coach wants to start talking at one minute after midnight on Sept. 1, that’s absolutely fine. Burns had a test at BHS that day — Sept. 1, 2021. So the night before, she’d studied and had gone to sleep, not really giving much thought to anything but her test. Conversely, her father was a nervous wreck and got little sleep.
“I woke up that morning with him in panic mode, standing over me and trying to get me up,” she said. “He was so mad at me.”
Her father takes over the explanation.
“I could not get her up,” he said. “On her cell phone, she had a missed call received at 12:03 a.m. Instead of calling back immediately, she said she would call later.”
Burns nods her head in agreement.
“That’s right. I went to school, and I took my test,” she said.
Her dad keeps a copy of the voicemail on his phone and plays it proudly for anyone who asks about it. It’s Ole Miss pitching coach Ryker Chason inviting Hallie Burns to be a part of the Lady Rebels softball team. She did return the call later on Sept. 1 and verbally committed to Ole Miss. A little more than a year later in Nov. 2022, Burns officially signed with the team.
It’s abundantly clear Junior Burns is proud of all three of his children, son Cory, daughter Kara and Hallie — and 6-year-old granddaughter Avie. Of all the attributes of his youngest, he mostly appreciates her focus and her faith.
“She stays focused,” he said. “That’s not always easy. The thing I’m most proud of is that she’s a strong Christian.”
Burns’ ability to stay focused has paid off in the game of softball. As sophomore pitcher of the Booneville Lady Blue Devils, Burns helped lead her team to the first state title game appearance in program history. That was in 2021, when Booneville became 3A state champions. A year later in 2022, the softball team repeated their championship win, and, also in ’22, The Lady Blue Devils basketball team brought home the state title for the first time in six years. Burns is a member of that team too.
Burns has consistently had strong support from her family, especially in her softball endeavors. Her mom, Jennifer, and her dad, well known for his pitch coaching, have made sure their young daughter has learned as much as possible.
“They have taken me to lessons everywhere,” Burns said. “Three hours away to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and to Alabama.”
Burns has been taught Tincher Pitching Development which is a system of pitching that looks at the whole athlete and designs ways help avoid injury, remove frustrations and pave a path toward success. She also trains three times a week remotely with S2 Breakthrough, a softball training facility outside Chicago.
“One of the hardest things is for an athlete to try to master pitching,” Junior Burns said.
The relationship between dad and daughter is a close one for the Burnses. But the dynamics can be difficult when dad/daughter becomes coach/pitcher.
“Coaching your child can be hard,” Junior Burns said. “It’s hard to separate the two — coach and dad.”
His daughter agrees.
“Starting in the fifth grade, I’m not lying, if I could tell he was not happy with something I did, I cried,” she said. “But when I started playing school ball and had Coach (Jessica) Taylor who was tough and very serious, my dad was easy after playing for her. Honestly, one of the things I am most proud of is winning Coach Taylor’s trust. She has given me so much support.”
These days, Burns helps her dad coach pitching to others at Parker Sportsplex in Booneville. She’s also attended multiple sports camps at Ole Miss. During one camp, in a scrimmage game, Burns was pitching against some recent Ole Miss softball recruits. A pitching coach made a point of telling Burns her spin was insane.
“That’s what Coach Chason calls his pitchers, the spinny Rebels,” Burns said.
While making the most of her senior year at BHS, Burns is getting more excited by the day as Aug. 1 gets closer. That’s when she’ll start her freshman year at Ole Miss. As for her future after college, Burns is considering her options.
“My plan is to major in exercise science,” she said. “And though playing professionally has crossed my mind, I really want to have a family. We’ll see.”