Charles Fortner, a legendary softball coach who in 2008 was inducted in the Florida High School Athletic Hall of Fame, passed away on Sunday, May 6, 2018. He was 70.
He was preceded in death by his father, Leroy Fortner. He is survived by his mother, Bernice Fortner, his wife, Silene, brother Willie Joe ‘Dude’ (Diane), sisters Sue Jones (Eddie), Faye Jones (Roland), and Lisa Howze (Mike), nieces Kelli Creamer (Jason), Kristin Hamlet (Chris), Josh Fortner (Jessica), Brandi Sasser, and Clay Sasser, five great nieces and nephews, and numerous lifelong friends.
For Fortner, coaching softball began as an unplanned career move, but developed into a lifelong passion.
Fortner played football, baseball and basketball for Wewahitchka High School in the mid-1960s before attending Florida State University. He began his coaching career in 1974 as an assistant junior varsity basketball coach at Port St. Joe High School. In 1977, he became an assistant varsity football coach at his alma mater, and took on the head softball coaching job in 1978. With only one year off in 1990, he coached the Wewahitchka softball team until his retirement in 2007.
Wewahitchka made the switch to fast-pitch softball along with the rest of Florida in 1994. When the Lady Gators ended the 2003 season as Class A state runner-up to Glades Day School of Belle Glade, Wewahitchka was the first public school to play in a Class A or 2A state championship game. Fortner’s teams won 12 district titles and seven regional titles, made seven FHSAA Finals appearances, earned state runner-up status once and won a state championship in 2007. The state title marked Wewahitchka’s first in any sport since 1954. Fortner’s career coaching record was 542-171. He was a two-time All-Big Bend Softball Coach of the Year and was named Dairy Farmers Coach of the Year in 2005-06.
Visitation will be held on Wednesday, May 9th, from 10:00-11:00 EST at Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Wewahitchka, with the service immediately following. Interment will take place at Cypress Creek Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in Kinard, FL. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Lady Gator Softball Team in Coach Fortner’s name. These may be sent to Wewahitchka High School, 1 Gator Circle, Wewahitchka, FL 32465.