By Steve Gunn
FRUITPORT – In the fall Greg Vargas and Butch Grimm are super-focused and intense, because that’s what it takes to coach varsity football.
In the spring they turn that intensity down seven or eight notches, because they’re not coaching football or teens.
They’re coaching the Tigers, a team of pee-wee baseball players between the ages of six and eight in the Beach Little League.
Why? Because first and foremost, they’re dads. Vargas’ son Greyson and Grimm’s son Jake both play on their team, and the coaches want to spend quality time with their boys.
Wins and losses are a lot less important than in high school, and the final scores don’t make the headlines. But Vargas and Grimm say they enjoy every minute of the experience.
“I come out here and the time just flies,” said Vargas, the head varsity football coach at Fruitport High School who’s an assistant coach with the little guys.
“I love it,” said Grimm, a Fruitport varsity football assistant who is the head coach of the pee-wee team. “We’re teachers and coaches, and there’s nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to do this, even with tiny kids. It’s even more fun.”
Of course fun has to be the main theme with pee-wee players. And patience is an absolute must. While varsity football coaches can get results by sometimes raising their voices, Vargas and Grimm know such tactics at the pee-wee level would only produce tears.
The golden rules are staying positive at all times and taking lots of deep breaths – particularly with their own kids, which can sometimes be more difficult for dads.
“Sometimes we have to pass our kids off to each other when frustration starts setting in a little bit,” said Grimm, who along with Vargas also coaches a minor league (ages 10 and 11) team and a youth travel team.
Sometimes the tears come anyway, even with patient coaches. After all, most of the players are still very much in the teddy bear stage.
“They might get hit by a pitch or by a ground ball,” Vargas said about the crying incidents. “You just have to slow things down, give them a hug and tell them to breathe.”
Some little players also have a tendency to forget their priorities, particularly with the Pine Park concession stand nearby.
“Sometimes kids, especially in their first year, will be due up to bat, and we find out they’ve gone to the concession stand for a walking taco or something,” Vargas said. “My own son did that last year. He knows better now.”
As professional teachers and coaches, Vargas and Grimm say learning and improving are necessary at any level.
That’s why they run organized and focused team practices – what Vargas describes as “organized chaos.”
They man different stations around the practice field, teaching different skills, and the kids rotate from one coach to another, learning a little bit here and there.
Of course the teaching has to come in small doses, because little kids have short attention spans and sometimes struggle with staying in one place.
“We never run a drill more than five to seven minutes,” said Grimm, who teachers wood shop at Fruitport High School. “They like to move.”
So far the results are evident. The Tigers have demonstrated the ability to pitch, hit and field a little bit better than opponents and have a 4-0 record.
At least one mom appreciates the professional coaching skills that Vargas and Grimm bring to the team.
“One game we were at, I heard a parent from another team talking and wondering if they could request our coaches,” said Nikki Bolton-Richards, whose seven-year-old son, Karson Richards, plays for the Tigers. “They’re really organized.”
The immediate themes may be learning and recreation, but the long-range goal is to develop quality baseball players for the Fruitport High School program.
“You want them to learn the fundamentals at that age,” said Vargas, who teaches high school English. “Otherwise, later on you’re dealing with breaking bad habits. The ultimate goal is to bring Fruitport kids together and spread the wealth and knowledge to make sure we have kids coming through who have learned the game and love it and will make our community proud.”