Bill O’Neil, the longtime, three-sport coach at Essex High School, has stepped away from the softball program.
Guiding Essex softball since 1992, O’Neil, 70, said it was time to hand the powerhouse program over to Randy Wells, who served as a co-head coach the past two seasons.
“I was actually going to step down two years ago, but I really enjoyed what I was doing and Randy had chances to go another places, so we sort of agreed that last year would be my last,” O’Neil said. “I couldn’t think of anyone better than Randy; he’s knowledgeable and the kids love him.
“Realistically, it’s getting towards that time to step down. It’s been my life for so long. It’s hard to step away, but I think it was the right time,” said O’Neil, who has also taught English at Essex since 1972.
In O’Neil’s tenure, the Hornets won four Division I titles — all since 2007, including last year’s crown over rival BFA-St. Albans. O’Neil compiled a record of 261-124 and reached 10 semifinals and seven championship games during a 22-year softball coaching career at Essex that also had a one-year, fill-in role in 1979.
O’Neil is also the head coach of the Essex boys hockey and girls soccer teams, and has an overall, three-sport varsity record of 1,189-542-75 and 23 state championships, according to athletic director Ed Hockenbury. While O’Neil is stepping away from softball, he told Hockenbury he would return to the soccer sidelines this fall and more than likely will be back behind the hockey bench next winter.
“I’m not looking forward to when he does retire. He still does a great job with all three of his sports,” said Hockenbury in a 2011 Burlington Free Press story on O’Neil’s career. “It’s a huge undertaking. … He still meets the physical demands of the job.”
O’Neil wants to spend more time with his wife, Mary O’Neil, who has been “incredibly gracious” during a tenured and successful coaching career that came with countless hours away from home for practices, games and bus trips.
“Mary has spent a lot of time waiting around and I should be here more as a husband,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil still plans to be a fixture at Essex home softball games this spring, serving as the PA announcer.