Maybe if there was a way to put a computer in a dugout, or on a stand in the third-base coach’s box, Gull Lake’s Bill Blakely wouldn’t be retiring from coaching.
A longtime teacher at Gull Lake, Blakely will continue in his job on staff at the school, teaching online courses through the district’s virtual school. But you really can’t do that as a baseball coach, so since he is moving to Virginia this summer, Blakely will be stepping down as one of the winningest high school baseball coaches in the area and leaving the Gull Lake program.
After this season, Blakely will end 24 seasons as the Gull Lake varsity baseball coach as he stands with more than 500 wins and countless memories of his time growing the program.
“We’ve won a lot of games and we’ve gone to the semifinals three times. When I was a younger coach I felt I had to prove myself by winning,” Blakely said. “But as the years go on I realized the winning is great, but you will forget about those in a couple of days. What’s more important is the relationships with the kids, with my coaching staff. That’s what I take away from my time here
“I have five of my coaches on the three levels that all played for me. I take a great deal of pride that they want to be around. I see it as a more of a relationship thing, the camaraderie that you have, that’s what has been important over the years.”
Blakely is stepping down from his coaching duties, in part, because his son will be playing baseball at the collegiate level next year at the University of Virginia.
“I think it’s a good time. We have good coaches on our staff that will do just fine when I’m gone. It’s a good time in my life with my son graduating and my daughter being a senior, so I’m ready to enjoy it from the other side,” Blakely said. “It will also give us a chance to watch him play at the next level. I don’t know if it will be hard to not coach him, but like for any parent, it’s hard if you are not able to watch your kids as they go to the next step.”
Drew Blakely, a senior for the Blue Devils, appreciates the sacrifice his family is making – especially his sister – by moving to Virginia. He also knows the Gull Lake baseball program will miss having his father around.
“I think it’s going to be really hard for him to leave Gull Lake. I think what helps is that the school is giving him an opportunity to keep teaching through the virtual school,” Drew Blakely said. “It’s going to be bittersweet with each game that passes, knowing this is the grand finale. A lot of people are going to hate to see him leave, but selfishly it has been fun to go out with him. It’s the last time me playing high school ball and his last time coaching high school ball; it’s been great to go through that together.”
At 21-7 this year, Blakely has a career record of 537-267, which puts him among the top 30 coaches all-time in the state of Michigan. His achievements are being rewarded this July as he has been selected to be on the coaching staff for the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game.
“He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever known on the baseball field,” said Gull Lake senior Caleb Scoles, who will play at the University of Toledo next season. “He’s a great guy on and off the field. He’s just amazing, he helped me get recruited. Everything you ever need, he is there for you.”
Advancing to the state semifinals three times, sharing the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division title last season, and being among the leaders in the standings again this season — winning has become the norm for the Gull Lake baseball program.
But that wasn’t always the case.
“I’m real proud of what we’ve done here, what we’ve established here,” Bill Blakely said. “With the help of the local parks department as well, we have a tradition of winning now which we didn’t when we I first started that’s for sure. Very few people remember those days, but I seem to. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
“I remember when I was the bat boy and Gull Lake would be so excited to just split a doubleheader, and to even sweep a doubleheader would be unheard of,” said Drew Blakely. “So to go from that to where we are now, where we are making runs to a state championship, always competing for conference championships, I think you can give him credit for building that kind of program.”
Bill Blakely and Gull Lake still have a few weeks left in the season. There will be some summer ball to coach and then there will be a house to find in Virginia. So there’s a lot still ahead for the family to be concerned about. But he realizes the day will come soon when he will walk off the Gull Lake diamond for the last time wearing the school colors.
“The finality of it hasn’t quite hit yet, maybe the last home game it might hit me,” Bill Blakely said. “Right now I’m just caught up in the season. I haven’t been thinking, this is the last one of these, or, this is the last one of those. I’m just doing what I’ve done the last 20-plus springs of my life, coaching baseball. But, I’m sure it will hit me at some point.”