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The fondest of farewells

Newsome gives outgoing coach Chad Haschel a season, and career, to remember.

By Joey Knight
Published May 16, 2007


LITHIA

The confirmation followed the hearsay like rain follows thunder.

Newsome's baseball players had caught wind of the conversations involving Chad Haschel, the only coach in the school's four-year history. They knew a career as a principal beckoned the 33-year-old Indiana native, and that administration and coaching is a forbidden union.

They sensed that, ultimately, he would be moving on. At least those were the rumblings.

"We didn't really know when, " team captain Stephen Branca said, "but I kind of had the feeling it would be coming some time."

They still weren't braced when the announcement struck, right beside the Wolves' batting cage just beyond the third-base dugout on March 17 - hours before a first-round Saladino Tournament game against Robinson.

As his players took a knee near the cage, Haschel took a deep breath. The expectant father of a second child then informed them he would start his job as Brandon High's assistant principal for student affairs in nine days. The season would be his last.

"I didn't think it would happen this fast, " Haschel admitted.

"It was solemn there for a while, " junior pitcher Kyle Parker recalled. "Everybody was quiet and didn't really talk about it. I think people heard a rumor that it was happening, but still ..."

Two months later, the fallout from Haschel's announcement has been minimal. The breakout has been staggering.

The Wolves reached the final of the 27-team Saladino for the first time. A three-game stumble ensued, but they since have embarked on the greatest run in program history, one that has prolonged Haschel's career longer than most ever dreamed.

Newsome 23-8, unranked and bereft of a playoff berth before this season, faces Port St. Lucie today in the semifinals of the Class 5A tournament at Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium.

The Wolves have won 11 of their past 12, including the program's first triumph - ever - against rival Bloomingdale in last week's region title game. Haschel down plays any suggestion his retirement from coaching has motivated the Wolves to send him out a winner.

"We were pretty good before that, " said Haschel, who was raised in the Indiana hamlet of Union Mills, starred in two sports at South Central High and played first base at Valparaiso. "I think there are other things that have made a difference more than that."

Nonetheless, the players appear bent on helping the endearing founder of their program - the one who can seamlessly segue from playful ribbing to forceful reproach during the course of one practice - with a flourish.

"He's told us he's never going to coach again because he wanted to start his career and end his high school coaching career here, " junior first baseman Kris Castellanos said. "So we just want to win it for him and go out on top."

Foresight, however, may have as much to do with the Wolves' improbable run as motivation. Knowing he ultimately would bequeath the program to his players, Haschel let them take ownership of it sooner rather than later.

Shortly before breaking the news to his players, he named Branca and senior catcher Ryan Swindell captains - something he never had previously done. When after-school commitments or east Hillsborough traffic held up Haschel, those two ran practices until his arrival.

Soon thereafter, he allowed the team to run a whole practice.

"I actually hit infield-outfield, " Parker said. "Haschel just stood up in the booth and watched the whole practice and we ran it ourselves. That's kind of when the winning streak started."

The coach concurs. "We had a talk with the seniors and we really started to put a lot more responsibility on our leaders, " said Haschel, who will be replaced at Newsome by former Tampa Bay Tech coach Zach Walker. "I think that really, really, really made a difference."

Despite some injuries on the pitching staff, the Wolves enter the state tournament with two quality starters - Parker (11-2, 1.51 ERA) and left-hander Matt Greer (7-2, 2.16), who threw a four-hitter at Bloomingdale last week and starts today.

Five projected starters are hitting over .300. Collectively, the Wolves are averaging barely more than one error a game. The promise Haschel saw in a collection of green youngsters four years ago has come to fruition.

Regardless of what happens today in Sarasota, that makes the sendoff more sweet than bitter.

"Our goal was to build a program and see if we could do it. And even without the run we've had this year, I had no regrets about that, " Haschel said. "I knew I could move on to the next chapter in my life knowing that I had accomplished one goal."

Joey Knight can be reached at (813) 226-3350 or jknight@sptimes.com.

 

Best on their way out

Many coaches, spanning virtually the entire spectrum of the athletic world, have announced their retirements/resignations before actually stepping down. A few of them have watched their teams send them out with a flourish:

Al McGuire, Marquette Men's college basketball

Announced his retirement, effective at season's end, four games into the 1976-77 campaign. The Warriors went on to win the national title, defeating North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament final.

John Wooden, UCLA Men's college basketball

Announced his retirement at the press conference following his team's national semifinal overtime victory against Louisville in 1975. Two days later, the Bruins defeated Kentucky for the national title.

Scotty Bowman, Detroit NHL

Decided in February 2002 he'd retire as Detroit Red Wings coach at season's end. Detroit topped Carolina in five games to win the Stanley Cup.

Tom Osborne, Nebraska College football

Announced his retirement as Cornhuskers coach on Dec. 10, 1997. In his final game less than a month later, the Huskers embarrassed Peyton Manning and Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl.

Pete Carril, Princeton Men's college basketball

Announced in early March 1996 he was retiring, effective at season's end. Later that month, Carril's 13th-seeded club shocked defending national champion UCLA 43-41 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.