When Portland won three games in a tournament to open its softball season on April 6, it gave Raider coach Jack Anderson 799 wins in his Portland career.
That night the team had a dinner to celebrate the inevitable milestone of 800, which they thought would happen in the next couple of days.
But Mother Nature had other ideas. They had to wait until this week to make the celebration official.
“We had seven games to play that week, and we didn’t play any of them,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s 800th win came Monday in the first game of a doubleheader against East Lansing, 32 years after taking over the Portland varsity program in 1981. He was the Raiders’ junior varsity coach for the two seasons before that.
In those 32 years, Anderson has led Portland to the state semifinals twice and won 20 league championships, a level of sustained success of which he is naturally very proud.
“The true test of a program is the ability to maintain that level for an extended period of time,” he said. “Some teams will win a big championship or something like that, but a couple of years later they’re struggling. What we’ve been able to do at Portland is maintain that level.”
Anderson said that the key to his success since the beginning of his tenure has been developing pitchers.
“That’s how you get it done in softball,” he said. “If you don’t have a kid who can throw it, it doesn’t matter how good all of your other players are. If you can’t shut somebody down, you’re going to struggle. So I spend a lot of time trying to develop kids into pitchers, spending a lot of time at pitching camps and working in the off-season with our pitchers.”
Anderson had two daughters, Julie and Kristen, who pitched for the Raiders and both earned first-team all-state recognition, in 1999 and 2001, respectively.
Kelly Grys was the first all-state pitcher that Anderson has coached, graduating from Portland in 1986, and has been an assistant to Anderson since 1989. Her daughter, Allie Grys, is Portland’s current starter in the circle. She said that Anderson has mellowed over the years.
“After Julie and Kristen graduated, you could see a different connection to the players,” Grys said. “He got closer to the girls and could have a little bit of a sense of humor with them. Gosh, when I played for him, I and the rest of the girls were scared to death of him. He was very intense, and I had never been coached by anyone like that.”
Anderson, who retired from teaching at Portland two years ago, said that he’s not going to give up the reins to the program any time soon. He said that he’s committed to coaching at least through next year, and will take it year by year after that.
“When I get out on the field, I feel like a kid again,” he said. “The kids, as frustrating as they can be sometimes, bring out the youth in you, and I love getting out there every day with them.”