By Kristi Lynn
SHELBY–After coaching more than 1,100 games in his career, Shelby baseball coach Brian Wright still has a passion for America’s favorite pastime.
He has coached and played for a total of 41 years and has no plans to retire from the game.
“I don’t want to do anything else right now,” Wright said. “I don’t want to give it up just yet.”
His passion runs deep for the sport. Not only does he coach the high school baseball team, but Wright has been the assistant coach for the Muskegon Clippers baseball club for 6 years. The Clippers are in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League that plays its home games at historic Marsh Field in Muskegon. That season begins in June.
Wright has been teaching in the classroom at Shelby for 38 years, the last five as the physical education teacher for grades K-5.
The 1976 graduate started his career with the Ravenna Bulldogs where he played for 4 years. Following high school, Wright continued his baseball career for another 4 years with the Grand Valley State University Lakers. After graduating, he moved to Shelby for an elementary teaching position and never left.
“I feel blessed to be at the same school for all these years,” said Wright. He gives credit to great assistant coaches Mike and Dick Pranger, Les Gowell, Scott Lund and Brian Plummer as well as Kevin Klein, who has been with Wright for 20 plus years.
“I have had wonderful assistant coaches and great support from both parents and students,” Wright said.
With so many extra-curricular activities available to students these days, fielding a baseball team could be a real challenge, but Wright believes he does it the right way.
“I still believe kids want to be coached hard and praised to get better,” he said. “We teach the fundamentals and treat the kids like family.”
More than likely that attitude is key to his longevity.
There are always high and lows in any career. In 2010, the Shelby Tigers broke the school record for victories with 34, and home runs, with 23. The team finished 33-4 that year.
However, Wright said the 2003 team was probably the highlight of his coaching career. The Tigers won their first 25 games and ranked No. 1 throughout the year. They were crowned West Michigan Conference champions with a 14-0 record, but the dream season ended earlier than expected. Shelby lost to Morley Stanwood in the regional semifinals 5-1. It was the only year the Tigers have been undefeated. Wright says that was a “magical” year for him. Morley Stanwood went on to the state finals, where it lost to Blissfield, 3-1.
Sports are a big part of life for the Wright family. Wright, and his wife, Kelly, have been married 29 years and have three children – a son and two daughters. Wright had the privilege of coaching his son for 4 years on the varsity baseball team, including the “magical” year they made a run for the state championship. He was also able to coach his daughter on the basketball court 1 season.
Wright played basketball, baseball and football while attending Ravenna High School.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife,” said Wright.
His family is another source of great support for his passion.
After 41 years of coaching most people would lose that spark and enthusiasm, but not Wright. His passion for the game seems to grow more with each season.
According to longtime best friend, fellow rival and former head coach of the Clippers, Walt Gawkowski, one of Wrights greatest strengths is “his ability to build relationships with his players.”
Gawkowski knows Wright well. They played on the same baseball team in the city league and the United Baseball League where they traveled every weekend.
” I guess that’s where the friendship began,” said Gawkowski.
Gawkowski and Wright also coached against each other through the years when Gawkowski was coaching the North Muskegon Norsemen. Many games have been replayed in their conversations over the years. Gawkowski even stood up for Wright in his wedding.
A baseball “lifer” is what some people would call Coach Wright.
Some would think doing the same thing over and over, year after year would get old, maybe even boring, but not for this diehard coach. Wright looks forward to each new season with excitement.
“The thrill is still there,” he said. “I told the kids the first day of the season, I’m as excited this year as I was my very first year.”
Wright doesn’t believe baseball is as popular as it used to be because there are so many more opportunities out there. But for Wright, it’s just as much a part of who he is as the very first year he coached.
“I didn’t even golf last summer due to baseball,” he said, “but I feel so fortunate.”
There is no break between the high school season and the Clippers home opener, however there are no games on Mondays so that’s the day he can catch up on other things.
“The baseball field is a classroom without walls,” said Gawkowski. “And he (Wright) is extremely knowledgeable. He’s just the type of guy that loves to be at the field. He is exceptional with the kids.”
As long as baseball still gives Wright that “Opening Day” thrill, he plans to keep on coaching.
“I’m not one to just hold on to hold on,” he said. “Something inside will tell me it’s time. And then it will happen.”
Until then, he will lace up his cleats and take the field for another season.
Nobody. Nobody loves the game more!