By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The sun setting beyond Joseph H. Goddard Field in Coal City on Tuesday night was symbolic of the sun setting on the career of the only coach Independence had ever known.
To his daughter Nicole and son Matt, he’s Dad. To his friends, he’s Joe. But to the 311 players who played for Joe Goddard, he’s simply “Coach.”
Many of those players were on hand Tuesday evening to honor their former coach, who retired before the season began.
“Well, when I heard in December or January that Joe was retiring, I felt we needed to recognize him,” Randy Hunt said. Hunt, who played for Goddard in 1977-78 organized the event in collaboration with the school and former players on Facebook.
It was a surprise for the former coach of 35 years.
“I didn’t really know this was going on,” Goddard said. “I just came out to watch a ball game and brought my dad out.
“I was standing on the bank up there and talked to several of the former players. I didn’t know they were coming out for this. I thought they were just here for the game, since it’s so nice out.”
Goddard was called on the field between games of Independence’s doubleheader with Summers County and presented with two plaques, a custom made Louisville Slugger and a shadow box with keepsakes from his career.
“Coach has put a lot into this program,” Hunt said.
Hunt recalled being 12 years old at his grandparents house, watching the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres play, when his grandfather began yelling, “That’s Joe Goddard!”
“Four years later, he was coaching my Big League team and then became the first high school coach here at Independence,” Hunt said. “He brought a lot of excitement to the little towns of Sophia and Coal City as a big league player.”
Goddard was all smiles as he recalled his time as a coach and mentor to many young men.
“There are too many memories to mention,” Goddard said. “I will say this. I’ve been fortunate enough to have good players, good parents and a community and school that was supportive of what I wanted to do out there.”
Goddard coached the Patriots to their only state championship in 1990. It remains the only state championship for a team sport in Independence history.
It’s an odd feeling for many, however, seeing Goddard standing along the bank near the stadium that now bears his name and watching a former player of his, Scott Cuthbert, carry on the Patriot legacy.
“Ya know, it’s one of those things that happens,” Goddard said. “You get older, you retire and someone else comes along. With Coach (Cuthbert), his dad and I played together since 1965, we played on the state American Legion championship team together. I’ve known those boys (Scott and brother Mark) since they were born. I’m really happy for them.”
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In true Joe Goddard fashion, Independence shut out Summers County in their doubleheader 11-0 and 6-0.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.