Mike Delaneys long and distinguished coaching career is not about wins and losses, although the Immaculate Heart Central baseball and basketball coach for nearly 40 years has racked up impressive numbers that stack up with anybody in the state.
Rather, Delaney will tell you the reason he still goes to practice every day, and still enjoys the challenge of molding young men into a cohesive group is the energy, enthusiasm and optimism of the kids. Thats what still keeps me involved, and why it also keeps me young.
Delaney, now at the end of his 37th season of coaching varsity baseball at IHC, recently posted his 500th career win (since then hes won his 501st). And it came in dramatic fashion as his Cavaliers overcame a 10-run early deficit against Carthage to post a 14-13 win in a Frontier League A Division matchup at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
As he always does, Delaney gave all the credit to his kids for their perseverance. He is never one to take credit for his teams success over the years, although as the dean of Frontier League coaches in both sports (he also has some 440 varsity basketball victories), he is looked upon as the quintessential teacher and usually gets as much out of his teams as anybody in the area.
Since taking over for Ted Bence for the 1976 season as varsity baseball head man at IHC, Delaneys teams have averaged nearly 14 wins a season. Delaney said the reason for all of his victories is simple.
Ive been blessed with great talent, kids who love baseball, who work hard at improving every day, and for parents who encourage them to become better players and people, he said. The secret is theyve had very good coaching before they reach the varsity. Theyve already developed very good skills, and their baseball instincts are high.
At his age, now 63 and probably not a pound heavier than when he graduated from IHC in 1967 as a decorated three-sport athlete, Delaney is seeing sons of players he coached years ago, and even a few grandsons, appear on his roster. That makes you feel old and young at the same time, he joked.
Delaney has always stressed fundamentals in his program as the cornerstone to success. Baseball requires a unique set of skills, and Ive been lucky enough to coach a lot of players with really advanced skills.
Delaney added, Baseball is a sport where you can be successful just 30 percent of the time as a hitter. So it takes a different mentality to play and succeed than some other sports.
During his long tenure, Delaney has seen the sport of baseball at the high school level evolve in many different ways.
Aluminum bats, of course, are the biggest difference in todays game, he said. Theyve made good hitters even better, and average hitters much better.
Athletes today, according to Delaney, are also in better shape, bigger, stronger and faster than when I played. They work out more, have personal trainers and work at it 12 months a year. Thirty years ago, you played baseball in the spring and summer. Now, kids are working all fall and winter to get ready for the spring and summer seasons.
Travel teams, where select kids play 60 or 70 games a summer and fall, have also helped the top players work on their specialities, he said.
And, as Delaney well knows, it puts a greater demand on coaches to be available all year long. Thats one reason why coaches dont last very long in todays world. They want to spend more time with their families.
To this day, Delaney still pitches batting practice every day. I throw 20 pitches as hard as I can to 15 guys. So when a kid tells me his arm is sore after 60 or 70 pitches, Im not sympathetic, he said.
Delaney has had so many great teams over the years, its tough to pinpoint his favorite. When pressed, he said its probably the 2006 team that won the state (Class C) title (the only Frontier League baseball team to ever accomplish that feat). There was a unique bonding on that team, and so many distinct personalities that just came together for one great stretch.
As for how long hell continue, Delaney has no answer. Hed love to stay on in baseball until his grandson, Jacob Bombard, is ready for the varsity. He is now a fifth grader.
Thats my intent, Delaney said. But I try to just take one day, one season at a time. Ill know when its time to go.
Section 3 schools Ilion and Mohawk have combined to become Central Valley Central School, beginning with the 2013-14 season.
The new district, which doesnt yet have a nickname or school colors, will remain a member of the Center State Conference, but it wont be eligible for the league title. It will be a Class A school in the CSC Division I with Class B schools Adirondack, Canastota, Clinton, Holland Patent and Sherburne-Earlville.
ROME CATHOLIC DONE
Rome Catholic High School, the second smallest school in Section 3, has played its last sporting event.
Earlier this spring, the Diocese of Syracuse announced the school will close after 50 years due to declining enrollment. Rome Catholic had 41 students this year in grades 9-12, second only to Tyburn Academys 34.
Sportswriter John Day covers Frontier League baseball for the Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org