Gielczyk: MCE’s Cole Leaves Behind Winning Legacy
For the first time in 19 years, the Mason County Eastern softball team will have a new coach leading the program this spring. Bill Cole, the man in charge since 2000, decided it was time to step away and spend more time with his family.
And with his work, he can’t commit to being with the team every day for practice and game preparation.
Cole initially got his foot in the door, so to speak, when he became the volleyball coach in 1999 so he has actually been coaching at the school for two decades.
“I didn’t know anything about volleyball, but I felt it was my chance to get a foothold and maybe get to be the softball coach,” Cole said by phone. “I did volleyball and softball for eight years.”
He has also coached girls basketball at MCE the last three years.
“I tried to do what I felt was best for the kids,” Cole said. “I don’t think the kids or the parents always agreed with me, but I felt my drive and passion for winning and succeeding overshadowed my lack of knowledge of volleyball or basketball.”
The numbers his teams put up in softball were nothing short of phenomenal. In 19 seasons, Cole’s teams won 13 Western Michigan D League championships, 19 district titles, five regional crowns, one state runner-up and one state title.
Cole gave all the credit to the players, who he says believed in his philosophy and bought into it. Once the wins and titles came, it wasn’t difficult to keep it going.
Maintaining that level of success didn’t come without hard work. Players often competed in summer travel ball, where they went against high quality competition and learned some valuable lessons.
The Cardinals were also blessed to have several outstanding pitchers who stepped into the circle and led the charge.
All of the some 300 or more athletes who played for him, many who were all-state selections, hold a special place in Cole’s heart.
But some he’ll remember more than others.
“I was fortunate enough to coach my middle daughter. She was a pitcher for the state championship team,” Cole said. “My youngest daughter was a pitcher, and ended up being a catcher on a couple of the teams that made it to the state semifinals.
“All the kids … I’ve always told them, ‘As I’m coaching you, you basically become my daughter.’ Even those that maybe weren’t a star player, there was always a moment or something that I remember about most all the kids. Lots of great memories.”
Cole’s oldest daughter Ceri was a state runner-up twice. The first time, he was an assistant coach. Jeannie is the middle daughter who was a pitcher, and Brandi the youngest who switched from pitching to catching.
Physical size didn’t matter to Cole. He said he had some great first basemen who were just barely 5-foot tall. But it was their desire and drive that made them great.
“We learned to play small ball,” Cole said. “When we won the state championship, we ended up scoring four runs, and we scored them because we bunted the ball.
“The thing was, we learned to play the game of softball correctly. They all bought into it, and had success with it. I’ve always told my kids, ‘You might hit home runs, but if the time comes where we need a bunt, you have to be able to bunt the ball. Sometimes, you have to move that runner and get her into scoring position. Play the odds, I guess.”
Cole always wanted a competitive schedule, often playing bigger schools so the Cardinals would be tested.
MCE always played a challenging regular season schedule, filled with Class A and B schools (which would now be Division 1 and 2) to test themselves against good competition to get better.
The goal for every team at the start of the season is to get to the state championship game in their respective division. For the Cardinals, it was a realistic goal.
“I’m proud of the effort that my kids always gave me,” Cole said. “That’s what made me proud.”
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.