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Good coaches too valuable to let get away

I’ll hold up my right hand and declare my complete bias: I’ll happily stand up as president of the Coach E fan club, though I’d be elbowed aside by more deserving candidates.

I say this because at the paper we’ve heard Robert Ellsworth – you know, the fellow named coach of the year three of the five years he has led the Eagle Valley High School baseball squad – might not be back next season.

Can’t say for sure, though. It’s difficult to get information. The athletic director hasn’t returned our reporter’s calls for over a month now. Not that he’d be able to shed much light, given the confidential nature of “personnel” matters.

Battle Mountain High School has been a bit more habitual about turning over coaches – not all deservedly, from our sideline vantage – and so offers a road map I hope is wrong.

Coaching is a tough business, from Little League right on up. The hours are long, there’s no end to the second-guessing, and there’s always that parent or two who think their darling should be playing more, with scholarships and a shoe contract no doubt on the line.

The high school and higher level coaches know this, certainly, and they take on these jobs knowing school politics are more likely to trip them up than anything that happens on the field.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear the grapevine buzzing, again, that another coach might not be back next season. In Coach E’s case, I’m dismayed.

He doesn’t win enough? The current string of league championships every year he’s led the team clearly has spoiled some folks, and from a school that must prevail over the elements as well as other teams. Doesn’t develop his players? The all-league squads are dominated by his players, and the league MVP invariably comes from Eagle Valley. These aren’t accidents.

Doesn’t win state? This school won in 1974, and that’s great, but Coach E’s teams have been fortunate each year to be in position to compete for the title. The coach has his team in contention each year, and that’s no small accomplishment if wins and losses are your guide.

As for baseball talent pools, hate to tell you, but this ain’t exactly Tampa. This isn’t even Murrietta, Calif., where the kids play year-round and my teen son will tell you the quality of ball at the Little League level is quite a bit higher than here – not because the kids here aren’t athletes, but the ones in the warmer climes play so much more baseball before they even reach high school.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my elementary school daughter, who tends toward shyness, flourish in part thanks to Coach E’s gentle attention in gym class. I’ve seen him help guide my 14-year-old son simply in the interaction between umpire and player. I think it says something pretty strongly positive when the varsity baseball coach has enough commitment to a community that he takes the time to umpire Little League games.

I’ve chatted with Coach E, played some basketball with him, and I’ve seen players he once coached come back and look him up. I don’t know him as his best friends do, of course, but I’ve had a glimpse or two at his heart. It’s not wanting.

I’ve also had some experience being coached and coaching. I had three coaches in high school, as the only kid under 6 feet scratching and clawing my way onto the varsity basketball team, and then to get playing time. I’ve also had the slightest taste of the coaching side with youth basketball and baseball, and seen the ugliness of fanatic parents even at that level who can’t see past their own kid.

I want the best for my children, too. My son, thus far with boderline talent to go with a big heart, will have to struggle mightily for a chance to make his high school baseball and basketball squads, I expect – barring a major growth surge or sudden leap in athleticism. The struggle will be the thing for him, a test that sport provides which can become a gift in later life, if he chooses that course.

He’s had to turn to the little things – fundamentals, defense, setting picks, boxing out, backing up infielders without fail, bunting, hustling – to contribute to his variety of teams. He goes hard, doesn’t complain and tries his best to do what the coach tells him.

I’m selfish as all the other dads out there. And I want the best mentors out there for him. I’m not talking about X’s and O’s or W’s and L’s; maybe I’m the rare parent, the anti-Lombardi who couldn’t care any less about scores. There’s a lot more at stake in sports played properly, and in context with life.

I want the coach who is going to help my son and my daughter the most. I want Coach E.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or at editor@vaildaily.com

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