Baxter reaches rare coaching milestone

Douglas Fritz • Apr 9, 2013 at 10:53 PM

Respect is earned, and Charlie Baxter got his by simply outworking other people.

When it was cold, or a little rainy, or the sun was going down and the Unicoi County baseball players were a little tired, they kept hitting, fielding and pitching — and the results showed up in May, year after year.

Baxter stood in the third-base coaching box Tuesday, and for the 1,000th time his team won. This time it was a 7-3 decision over Happy Valley.

The milestone was achieved by Baxter, who has a career record of 1,000-310, in different eras and under changing TSSAA rules. He even won over 200 games with the girls in softball for five seasons.

Clearly, Baxter is one of the best coaches in the history of Tennessee high school athletics.

His players consider it a special deal to have participated in some of the 1,000 wins.

“I think it's quite an honor,” said former Blue Devils' standout Nick Lingerfelt, who played on the 1985 state championship baseball team. “Look at (University of Tennessee's) Pat Summitt in women's basketball, or (Walters State's) Ken Campbell in baseball. Look at all of the great players who went through those programs. To be a part of what Coach Baxter has done is quite a privilege.”

When Baxter started coaching in 1975, Unicoi County was just another baseball team in the area. Baxter set his sights on making it a little different, but not in terms of wins and losses.

“My whole reason for getting into coaching was to build a competitive strong program that would give every athlete an opportunity to get to the next level,” said Baxter after Tuesday's game. “It has never been about wins. I never counted wins. It was all about developing players and getting them where they wanted to be.”

About a decade after he took over the program, people across the nation had heard about the Blue Devils as they were ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation after a 41-1 season that ended in the Class AA state semifinals.

By the time 10 more years had elapsed, Unicoi had collected four state championships and five state runner-up finishes.

A few years later, Baxter picked up a bigger ball and started coaching the girls. However, instead of coaching them like a girls softball team, he guided them like a baseball team — and they consistently beat everybody.

His record with the girls was an astounding 213-21, and he led them to the 2002 Class AA state championship. That team went 50-3.

Baxter had the rare opportunity to coach his son, Andy, and his daughter, Katie, to state championships. Andy's team won the Class AA baseball title in 1995, and Andy is now a Unicoi County assistant coach.

Baxter's baseball record stands at 787-289, which means he is closing in on another milestone. The only coaches who have reached the 800-win mark, according to the Tennessee Baseball Report record book are Bartlett's Phil Clark (over 900) and former Dobyns-Bennett head coach Mike Ritz (853).

Also, Baxter could eventually pass Buck Van Huss as Tennessee's all-time winningest coach. Hampton and Dobyns-Bennett's Van Huss racked up 1,021 wins from 1953-1989 in basketball.

All the numbers will tell of the success Baxter has enjoyed during his coaching career, but they won't explain the way he accumulated them. Baxter doesn't just coach the fundamentals of the game. Yes, he has been very good at that, and still is.

But Baxter also has a way of getting not just the best, but the very best out of players. Looking back at the list of successful players, some of the statistics are mind-boggling.

“He's just able to get the most out of every kid,” said Lingerfelt.

And those players are the reason Baxter said the 1,000 wins are special.

“It's 1,000 wins for the school,” said Baxter. “It's the athletes, not me. I'm just glad to be a part of it.”

Also, it wasn't just the wins, but the way the wins came. Unicoi beat pitchers it probably shouldn't have beaten, simply because Baxter had his teams so prepared — not just physically, but mentally.

On this day, Connor Simpson pitched through bouts of wildness and eventually earned the win on the mound. He struck out eight and walked nine while giving up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings.

William McInturff had the big hit, an RBI double in the sixth inning to push Unicoi's lead to 4-2. He also earned the save, getting the final out by inducing a grounder to shortstop.

Jonathan Davis and McInturff each finished with two hits.

Beating Unicoi County is still more than just a seven-inning chore. It's every pitch of every inning because that's how Baxter's teams play.

And that's why he's still winning, four decades after he started.

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