CLAYTON — A man that has become a coaching institution in the game of high school baseball in the Miami Valley has decided to call it a career, and the game will no doubt be worse off for it.
After 39 years and 714 career coaching victories, including 36 at Dixie High School, longtime Northmont Varsity Head Baseball Coach Chuck Harlow has officially resigned. He served as the assistant coach at Dixie for two years and the head coach for three years before serving as the head coach at Northmont for 34 years – all 34 of which were winning seasons.
Harlow is ranked No. 8 in career wins in the history of Ohio high school baseball. He was inducted into the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2012 he received the Mike Kelly and Don Donoher Award recognizing an Outstanding High School Coach in the Dayton area from the Dayton Agonis Club.
“I always said if there was anybody inside the coaching staff that wants the job, I would step aside,” Harlow said.
Harlow retired from his teaching position four years ago. At that time he asked his coaching staff if any of them wanted the job. Longtime assistant Ross Kincaid expressed an interest, but said he wasn’t quite ready. He told Harlow that he might want the job in four years. That time has arrived.
“You just know when it’s time,” Harlow noted. “The guy who wants it is really good.”
Harlow said there wasn’t any one thing in particular that drove his decision to step down.
“I like the administration and I have had no problems at all,” he commented. “The parents have been great and the kids have been great. I just thought it was time to let somebody from within take it.”
In addition to all of the victories he has experienced, there have been far more memorable events during his long career. When asked if there was a particular event that stood out, Harlow did not hesitate to answer.
“Our first league championship. That was my second year at Northmont in 1986,” Harlow stated. “In 1985 we were 15-14 and in 1986 we were 20-7 and won the league. That was huge for me because I am a league guy, although I love the tournament too. Tournament time is super. I always say there are two seasons. Winning a regional game was also big and winning all the district championships has been great.”
Northmont has won five district championships, 13 sectional titles, 12 conference titles and twice reached the regional final. In 2011 the Thunderbolts lost to Lakota East 1-0 in nine innings.
“When you get that close to going to state, especially as a public school in Southwest Ohio, I thought we might have been able to do it that year,” he noted.
In 2013 Northmont defeated Mason, which was 26-0, in a regional semifinal 6-1 before losing to Moeller 11-3 the next day in the regional final.
Aside from all the victories, the thing Harlow enjoyed the most was working with all of the players that came up through the local feeder programs to play at the high school level.
“I’ve always been a kid guy,” Harlow said. “The kids mean the most to me. I love great players but sometimes it is just those kids that are dedicated and might be the last guy at the end of your bench that might be your favorite player on the team.”
As a ‘kid guy,’ he never hesitated to teach life lessons to his players.
“I am always telling the kids, you have certain moments in life and you need to get as many of those moments as you can get, and we’ve had a lot of great moments,” Harlow stated.
Some of his favorite moments have included attending former players’ weddings and staying in contact with his players as much as he can.
He credits his wife, Beth (Peffley), for her role in making his career as successful as it was.
“None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Beth,” he said. “She is the one in the background doing everything to support the team. When we would go to Florida she would make all the breakfasts in advance, gets everything ready and distributes it to each hotel room. She is the one who runs to the store every day to get milk and orange juice, water or whatever we need. It has been a partnership and she has been the silent partner.”
Anyone who has ever been around him knows that Harlow lives for baseball season. Now that he is stepping aside he was asked how he would survive without the game.
“I don’t know man, that is going to be weird because I go to summer games and in the spring I am going all the time,” he said. “People asked me the same thing when I retired from teaching and I have never been bored. You just find things to do. I like to play golf and riding my bike, which I haven’t done this year but I plan on starting to ride it.”
The Harlows have a son Kyle and his wife Laura (Butler) that live in Vandalia with their grandchild, a daughter that lives in Chicago, and a daughter that lives across the street. He says it is time to refocus or look for another job.
He has received an offer to help a buddy coach one of the bigger summer baseball programs in the area and has considered running his own baseball clinic.
“I am just going to take a year off and see if I miss it,” Harlow added. “I’ve been lucky. We’ve had such a great baseball community and one time had three feeder programs. Before Select Baseball we had a lot of kids that were involved in baseball in the community, but Select Baseball has narrowed the number of kids that have played. There are too many kids playing traveling baseball now. I don’t have anything against it, but for kids at a younger age I do. I think it is absolutely silly.”
Harlow considered every game a big game.
“The game you were playing that night was the biggest game you were going to play,” he said. “It has been great. We’ve had kids that have bought into the program but of late I have had to explain why we are doing certain things. It used to be you just did it and the kids responded. Now they want to know why we are bunting in certain situations. I’ve always lived by that rule that you have to get a guy on third base with no outs or one out because there are a whole lot of ways you can score from third base. Us and Vandalia are notorious that if you have a guy on first and second with no outs I think everybody in the whole world knows what we are going to do.”
At the annual baseball banquet he told those in attendance the only way Northmont could achieve 34 consecutive winning seasons was to have everybody pulling in the same direction. That includes the parents, who have packed meals and done team laundry and hold an annual dinner for the team in Florida for the past 28 years.
“The parents have been great and I was lucky because I have heard that a lot of coaches didn’t like their teaching position. I had a great teaching job,” Harlow added. “I was department chair of social studies my last three years and I really enjoyed that and I loved teaching American History. I just had a great situation at Northmont. They have been good to me and I have tried to be really dedicated to them.”
His dedication was evident. Northmont baseball will never be the same.
Reach Ron Nunnari at 684-9124, via email Rnunnari@aimmediamidwest.com or on Twitter @Englewood_Ind