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After 11 years at the head of the Central High School baseball program, head coach Chase Jones resigned Wednesday.
Jones, the most successful coach in the program’s history with 225 career wins as a Red Raider, cited a recent meeting and difference in philosophy with new Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall for his resignation. (Read editorial here)
“I’m extremely proud of what we have been able to do in this program and where this program has come,” Jones told the Manchester Times Wednseday. “And it’s not just wins and losses. It’s the kids who have left this program and the multitude of good things they have been able to do in life … I’m proud of that.”
Jones turned in his resignation Wednesday morning to CHS principal John Bush and met with the baseball team at 2 p.m. to tell them he would not return. His resignation includes his driver’s education teaching position, signaling he will be taking another job soon. However, Jones would not comment on his immediate future.
“It’s a terrible day in Coffee County baseball,” said junior infielder Peyton Meeker, who led the team in home runs as a sophomore and was named District 6-AAA freshman of the year in 2011. “He built this program up to what it is today. No other coach will be able to do what he did.”
McFall sent a synopsis letter to Jones, Bush, former athletic director Paul Parsley and athletic director Richard Skipper dated July 19 that overviews a recent meeting in which she says, “I expect changes in most aspects of the baseball program at CCCHS.” The letter also says that the baseball program should reorganize its finances so “parents are not expected to raise so much money.”
The baseball team’s budget for the 2012 season was $35,000, an amount that current parent and booster Rodney Meeker says isn’t unrealistic.
“I understand how much it costs to run a program,” said Meeker. “Just for me to run a summer travel team it costs close to $5,000 and that is just dressing 11 kids and not having to take care of a field.”
The CHS baseball team receives virtually no funding from the school system – only enough for road trip gasoline and umpires – meaning the booster club raises funds for uniforms, bats, balls, helmets, field irrigation, the hitting facility and other miscelaneous items. The baseball program’s budget is in line with other programs at the school. The football team has raised and average of $48,000 in each of the past three years, according to a statement from the Quarterback Club.
McFall said all athletic programs will be examined when it comes to budgets.
“Anytime we ask our parents to go above and beyond what’s normally seen in high school programs I think we need to constantly examine it and see if we need to alter that,” McFall said by telephone Wednesday afternoon.
When asked if all athletic programs that are self-sustaining will be examined, McFall replied “absolutely.”
In the letter, McFall also says, “I expect [Jones] to allow the players from the summer Babe Ruth program to play in the Babe Ruth State Tournament if that is what they wanted to do so and in no way hold that decision against a player or their parents in any manner regarding their position or playing time on the high school baseball team.”
According to a source close to the situation but only willing to speak on the condition of anonymity, the Babe Ruth statement from McFall comes from a recent meeting McFall had with a set of parents upset that Jones wanted their child to play with the high school summer league team instead of the recreation league.
“I won’t comment on any specific meetings I’ve had,” McFall said. “I will tell you we can’t dictate what our players do out of season. We encourage our players to participate in as many things as they want.”
According to Jones, there wasn’t any dictating.
“We have never held a decision like that against a player,” Jones told the Times. “But if someone isn’t there and they fall behind other players who are working their tails off, then it is what it is. Every day, every practice and every game is important in development.”
In his letter of resignation, Jones cites McFall’s request for “changes in most aspects of the baseball program at CCCHS” as a main reason he is leaving, saying “I have to strongly disagree.”
“This baseball program and the many accomplishments we have struggled for and achieved together over the past 11 years as head coach, will always be a source of great pride for me,” Jones says in the letter. “Although, the way our players have excelled in academics, worked to support their families and teammates, while understanding the natural adversity that baseball and life can throw at them, but continued to give their best effort will be my inspiration.”
McFall said she wishes Jones luck.
“We wish him well in his future endeavors,” she said. “I think he has given a lot to this baseball program and his dedication is obvious.”
Jones took over the Red Raider baseball program in 2002 and the team went winless in District 8-AAA (0-12) and won just eight games total. But the Raiders bounced back to go 9-3 in District 8-AAA in 2003 and won the District 8-AAA title and more than 20 games for the first of seven times.
Jones’ teams went on to win six district championships: 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2004 the Raiders won both the regular season and tournament titles for the first time since 1976 and beat Riverdale in the Region 4-AAA semi-finals for the first time in the program’s history.
The Raiders went on to win region semi-final games in 2007 (over Cookeville), 2009 (over Lebanon) and 2010 (over Walker Valley). In 2010, the Raiders went on to win the region and beat Tullahoma in the state sectional to earn the program’s first state tournament berth. It was the first team state tournament berth for Central High School since the Lady Raider softball team reached the Spring Fling in 2000.
Jones’ teams won district titles with four different assistant coaches. Two assistant coaches, Travis Adams and Nathan Browning, went on to become head coaches at other schools. Adams at Bradley Central and Browning at Lincoln County.
“We have been fortunate to have kids come through the program who were skilled when they got here,” Jones told the Times. “The community has worked hard and I think will continue to work hard to develop kids at a young age. Along with that, I truly in my heart think our program works. Our program is designed that if you stay for four years you will be much improved every year and by year four you will be not only a good baseball player, but a great young man ready to go into society. That’s what we believe and that’s the only direction that I know of.”
Jones also helped oversee the construction of the Crethan Hansert Memorial Hitting Facility. A building the team, along with the softball program, is still paying for.
Hansert played right field for the Raiders in 2002 and 2003 and was killed in a car wreck on Halloween 2003. Jones led the program forward to a district title the next year, established the Crethan Hansert Memorial tournament over the summer and the hitting facility, which serves the high school baseball and softball teams, middle school teams, Westwood Middle School and other various travel teams and Little League All-Stars.