Chris Walls honestly expected to never coach another baseball game. When he walked away after five seasons at Greater Beckley Christian — the only coach the Crusaders had ever known — he was content to leave it in the past.
But when the job at Woodrow Wilson came open last fall with the unexpected resignation of 18-year coach Mark Daniel, Walls could not fight the urge.
“I really thought I was done with it,” Walls said. “I had turned down a couple of other jobs. I thought I was through with coaching. During the year off I did miss it. I missed the camaraderie with the boys and the teaching part that comes along with it. I had so many people in the community call me, wanting me to take the job.”
He was eventually given the job and was ready to make his return after a one-year absence. Of course, that Beckley debut is now stuck in limbo, just as the entire sports world because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walls, who coached Greater Beckley to four sectional championships, agrees whole-heartedly that putting everything on hold is the right move. But that doesn’t make the situation any less emotional.
“It broke our hearts,” he said. “You hate it for everybody. Not just our guys but for players statewide and countrywide. Just from the little bit I was around our seniors, I really respect them because of their work ethic and just knowing what they put into it. Not just my seniors but everybody else’s seniors.”
Walls was unfamiliar with the players going in, but he knew he was going to be working with a young team. The Flying Eagles lost several players from last year’s team, including all-stater Hunter Fansler — who also had his season abruptly ended as a freshman at Marshall. Among the others are Jacob Sheets, Austin Holtzapfel and Johnie Clay.
“I didn’t know any of them,” Walls said. “During my year off I did go to one of the sectional games and they had some good talent. But I came to find out only a couple of them have varsity time. We were going to be young, but I could tell from their work ethic from October all the way up until March that they wanted to be pushed. They wanted to learn. On conditioning days we couldn’t wear them out.”
Stan Fansler, who Walls says is “a big reason I took the job,” will remain as an assistant coach. Walls also brought on Woodrow Wilson graduate Brandon Yost and Independence graduate Tanner Muovich as assistants.
Walls also credits Gary Muovich’s offseason work as an important key to success wherever he has been.
The plan was to dress all 30 players who showed up for the first day of practice.
“Numbers were down the last couple of years so I wanted to keep them all to build up the JV program,” he said. “It was hard to cut some of the ones who were straddling the fence because they worked so hard. I kept saying 25 was the number I was going to keep, but I couldn’t do it.”
Several players caught Walls’ eye.
Shortstop/pitcher Cooper Vaught’s work ethic and leadership make him stand out. Noah Rakes and Kaden Williams were going to be solid seniors, and sophomore Maddex McMillen was expected to bring a solid arm to the pitching staff after sitting out his freshman season.
Logan Williams was going to be counted on as a pitcher and in the field, and Nate Williams was expected to be a solid outfielder. Austin Underwood was poised to be a main player, and Walls said sophomore Daniel Dickenson has his favorite swing on the team.
Micah Clay and Seth Gwinn were battling for the start at catcher, and Connor Mollohan was practicing above his freshman status.
Walls also liked what he saw from the likes of Callan Bates, Aiden Shehan and Dante Quattrone.
The prospect of playing this spring looks bleak, but the players already have made a lasting impression on their new coach.
“They work so hard. They want to be pushed and want to be taught,” Walls said. “They are great kids and their work ethic really impressed me. They earned me respect quickly.”
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