By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
NORTON SHORES – Ed Bailey entered the high school coaching ranks more than 30 years ago with zero interest in volleyball.
He was a basketball player in high school, and he wanted to coach varsity basketball.
So when the offer came to coach the Holton girls volleyball squad in 1980, he accepted with one condition:
“I told them I would do it for one year, until a basketball job opened up,” Bailey said.
By the time there were any openings for a basketball coach, Bailey had fallen in love with volleyball.
He built a powerhouse at Holton, climaxing with a state championship in 1994. He also took over a troubled volleyball program at Muskegon Community College and made it a consistent winner.
Then came an opportunity to become an elementary school principal, and Bailey decided to retire from coaching.
He’s been un-retiring ever since.
He came out of retirement in 2000 to coach the Reeths-Puffer volleyball team. He came out of retirement in 2005 to reclaim the MCC job.
Bailey’s most recent re-emergence came at Western Michigan Christian, when he agreed to take over the Warrior volleyball program in 2012.
Now somewhere around 60 (he refuses to divulge his specific age) and retired as a school principal, Bailey is at a point in his life where many coaches hang up their whistles for good.
But he’s having a great time once again, partly because his team is winning, of course. In three seasons under Bailey, WMC is 110-39-11, and the Warriors have a good chance of claiming a few trophies in the 2014 state tournament, which begins this week with districts.
“It comes down to the kids and hopefully sharing my passion with them,” Bailey said. “At my age, coming back and coaching, I have to have a passion for it. Seeing kids develop that passion themselves, and play to the best of their ability, makes it worth it for me.”
But it’s more than volleyball or victories motivating Bailey these days. He’s developed a love and appreciation for Western Michigan Christian and the people who work and study there.
“I did it, and I’m so happy I did it,” said Bailey about taking the WMC job. “This is a wonderful place to be a part of. If I would have known before what I know now, I would have sent my kids here.
“I like the way people treat each other here. I see a lot of happy kids who respect authority figures and respect each other. Those are the types of values I grew up with.
“I have always called Holton home all these years, until I came here. Now I can say I have two homes.”
Championship years in Holton
If Bailey has stuck to his original plan, his stay in Muskegon County would have been short.
He came to the area in the 1970s to take a teaching job at Holton, after graduating from Portage Northern High School and Western Michigan University.
“My original plan was to teach in Holton for a year or two then return to Kalamazoo,” Bailey said.
He coached junior varsity boys and girls basketball for several years, before a layoff interrupted his career in 1979.
He was called back to Holton in 1980, and was presented with the opportunity to coach the varsity volleyball team.
While his interest in the sport was limited at first, Bailey is not the type to do anything halfway. He threw himself into the sport, attending camps and clinics every chance he could, and learning from some of the better coaches around.
“I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “It’s not only physically challenging, but a mental game. Any team can beat any team with the right attitude.”
By the early 1990s, Bailey’s Holton volleyball program started to click.
The Red Devils won Newaygo County Athletic Association titles in 1992, 1993 and 1994. They won district tournament titles the same years.
They won the Greater Muskegon City Volleyball Tournament in 1993 and 1994, and regional titles the same years.
They were Class C state runners-up in 1993, then rolled to a state title in 1994.
Interestingly, all of the seniors from the state championship team were students in Bailey’s physical education class when they were second-graders.
“What high school volleyball coach is not going to teach the kids volleyball?” Bailey said. “That’s how we got a lot of them into the game.
“That was a special group of athletes. They were probably one of the most athletic classes of women to ever come through Holton, and they were also very dedicated. If I had told them they could win a game by running through a wall, they would have run through a wall.”
Bailey and those players reunited in 2013 at the Muskegon Country Club, where the 1994 Red Devils were inducted in the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame.
“All of the players were there,” Bailey said. “I think most of their parents were there. It was a really special occasion.”
This year Bailey and the players had another great experience when he was finally able to distribute state championship rings, 20 years after the fact.
“Back then a lot of the girls couldn’t afford the championship rings, so we didn’t get any,” Bailey said. “But we started talking about that at the country club, and I mentioned I was familiar with a company that makes those types of rings for a reasonable price, so we had them ordered.
“I got to deliver them. That was fun. I met one person at a parking lot of Wendy’s. We met wherever we could run across each other. It was a really nice way to cap the experience.”
Still winning after all these years
Bailey became an elementary principal in the Holton school district in 1995 and decided to vacate the Holton and MCC coaching jobs.
He moved on to become an elementary principal in the Whitehall district in 1997 and the Reeths-Puffer district in 2003.
He was focused on his career as a school administrator, but the lure of volleyball kept pulling him back.
He coached the Reeths-Puffer’s varsity in 2000 and 2001 before exhaustion forced him to resign.
“One day I just didn’t feel good and went to the emergency room,” Bailey said. “It just came down to the fact that I was burning both ends of the candle. I knew I had to quit.”
He returned to his old coaching job at Muskegon Community College from 2005-10. His Jayhawks posted a 35-7 record in his final season at the college.
“That made it very easy to go out on top,” said Bailey, who retired as a school principal in 2007. “We had a very good season (at MCC) and I was happy with my career in volleyball.”
He sat out one year before the call came from WMC, and he gave into temptation again.
Bailey quickly proved he could still coach a winning volleyball team.
His 2012 team finished 37-12-3 and advanced all the way to the Class C regional finals. In 2013 the Warriors were 42-13-2 and again advanced to the regional finals.
This year they are 31-14-6, won the River Valley Conference title, and are hoping to make another run in the state tournament.
Bailey’s season was interrupted this fall by a four-game suspension he received from the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
He was accused of “undue influence” over potential players, based on the fact that he told two students from other schools who wanted to transfer to WMC the deadline for enrolling so they could play next fall.
“I don’t go out and recruit,” Bailey said. “I have been an educator for 32 years, and not once before has anything happened even remotely like this.
“It did hurt, but I was very touched by the support I received from the players, parents and school administrators.”
Now all of that is behind Bailey, and another chase for a state championship lies ahead.
“I know what it takes to win a state title, and I know the feeling the players and coaches have afterward,” Bailey said. “I want to have another team that experiences that feeling. It’s a remarkable feeling.”
So how long is he willing to keep coaching in pursuit of that goal, before finally retiring for good?
“Until it’s not fun anymore,” Bailey said. “As long as it’s still fun, they can wheel me into the gym in a wheelchair if they have to. I’ll still do this.”