H.S. BASEBALL: 51-year tenure of Chambersburg coach Bob Thomas comes to an end
It was a tradition that happened nearly every year since 1964.
Bob Thomas would prepare his Chambersburg baseball team each spring and the Trojans would hit the diamond and win.
But after 51 years, Thomas has decided that there won't be a 52nd year – he gave his letter of resignation to Chambersburg Area Senior High School Athletic Director Jeremy Flores on Tuesday morning.
That ended a coaching career that will be attached to all kinds of positive descriptions. Distinguished. Successful. Historic. You can take your pick.
"I don't know of anybody who was more dedicated to a program than Bob was to that baseball program," said Dave Etter, who was Thomas' assistant coach for 37 years until he retired six years ago.
And what a program it was.
In those 51 seasons, Thomas' teams played 1,112 games and won 833 of them, for a winning percentage of .749. That means for every four games played, Chambersburg won three of them.
Under Thomas, the Trojans won three PIAA state championships, 11 District 3 titles and 22 league crowns.
Perhaps the most amazing statistic of all the ones his teams have achieved is that in 51 years, the Trojans finished with a winning record 49 times. One year was a .500 season and the 2014 team finished 10-11.
Baseball coaching records have been hard to verify, but Thomas' is almost certainly the most successful coaching career in Pennsylvania high school baseball history.
This past spring, Chambersburg compiled a 15-10 record. The Trojans lost in the District 3 championship to Hempfield, 6-5, and then fell 4-0 to eventual PIAA runner-up Wyoming Valley West in the first round of states.
The reason for the resignation is not that Thomas has lost his desire to coach baseball, or that his health has become a factor, even though he turned 80 this spring.
"Basically, it's a family situation," he said. "The day of the last playoff game (a PIAA first-round game June 3), my wife Bonnie had a medical problem. When she was released from the hospital, she went to a nursing home for physical therapy for six weeks and she just came home last Wednesday.
"She's doing better, but I need to be home more. With all the things we do now as coaches – fall ball, open gyms, practices and games – it's a little too much."
Thomas took the time he needed to make a decision.
He said, "I told Jeremy (Flores) in the end-of-the-year interview that retiring might be possible depending on how things went. Now's when we should be getting ready for fall ball, so I thought it was time a decision had to be made, and this is the best solution."
Flores said, "He's thinking about his family first. We will have some very big shoes to fill. What Bob has accomplished has been nothing short of amazing. With all of the lives he's affected – both with the kids and in the community – he has a lot to feel proud about. He deserves all the credit he can get."
Thomas, as is his nature, tries to deflect that praise.
When asked what the highlight of his career was, his answer was: "I had lots and lots of good players, and lots of good coaches who helped me. In particular, Dave Etter was my right- and left-hand guy for a number of years."
Those who have gone through the program probably have their own highlights. You could pick from among the following:
• Three state championships, in 1984, 1999 and 2004.
• Special mention for his 500th, 600th, 700th and 800th victories.
• Any number of classic Chambersburg seventh-inning comebacks. Try this one: Down 8-5 in the bottom of the seventh in a District 3 playoff game against Shippensburg at Henninger Field in 1981, Greg Hatmaker hit a two-out grand slam for a 9-8 win.
What Thomas remembers is a beaut. In a 1999 state semifinal game against Tunkhannock, the Trojans trailed 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning. They loaded the bases with one out and Dustin Negley hit a single up the middle. Scott Folmar scored from third base to tie it and Andy Dangler hustled home from second base.
Thomas said, "Back then, if a runner missed a base, you didn't have to appeal it. If the umpire saw it, he could call the runner out. I saw that Andy missed third and that the umpire saw it."
With the Trojans celebrating an apparent victory when it appeared Dangler had scored, Thomas told Travis Arnsparger, the runner at first, to keep going and make sure he touched home plate. In the meantime, the Tiger catcher tossed the ball into rightfield in disgust, allowing Arnsparger's run to count as the game winner.
They weren't all that dramatic, of course, but the Trojans pulled out more than their fair share in the final inning.
"We had a lot of good teams," Thomas said. "I don't try to single out any particular team or player as the best of the group, but we had a lot of good players and teams."
Thomas said he will miss the camaraderie with the players, assistants and even opposing coaches.
"There's not too many left who I coached against who's been there a long time," Thomas said.
One is Waynesboro's Greg Chandler, who has coached for 28 years.
Chandler said, "I thought the world of Bob; we had a lot of mutual respect. His longevity was just amazing."
Longevity, plus success nearly every year.
"Doing 51 years of coaching is probably something we'll never see again in any sport at the high school level," Flores said. "He's definitely going to be missed."
Longest tenured area coaches
Bob Thomas: Chambersburg baseball, 51 years
Karl Reisner: Mercersburg baseball, 25 years
Doug Rine: Chambersburg wrestling, 20 years
Carol Cline: Forbes Road field hockey, 37 years
Randy Gelvin: Forbes Road baseball, 29 years
Greg Chandler: Waynesboro baseball, 28 years
Ty Frelin: Chambersburg girls volleyball, 27 years