Reece honored

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 16, 2006

Long-time Selma coach to be inducted into Hall of Fame

By George L. Jones

The Selma Times-Journal

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Elton Reece doesn’t talk like a man who misses the game of baseball.

That could be because he never really left it.

Fifteen years after he coached his last high school game, he still plays a big part in the playing experiences of several young players.

It’s funny to think about. Three decades is a long time for a man to be in a place he intended on staying in for far shorter.

“I came to Selma in 1972. It was the first and only coaching job I ever had,” Reece said. “I told my wife when I graduated from Livingston we’d stay for a year. But the people and the facilities were all very nice. It was one of those situations where I really felt at ease.”

So much so that he coached baseball at Selma High for 19 years and has directed the city Parks and Recreation Department for almost as long.

Because of that, Reece will be inducted into the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Reece will join Leon Druckenmiller, Steve Kittrell and Mike Lane in the 2007 class that will be honored at Birmingham’s Marriott Hotel Jan. 19.

Reece said he was surprised to learn he had been chosen for induction, especially considering the quality of the coaches already enshrined.

The list of past inductees includes names like Chase Riddle, Earl Miller, Bob Riesener and Hal Baird.

Reece accumulated more than 400 wins as a high school coach and had more than 100 players go on to play collegiate ball and some professionally.

But he is just as proud as what he was able to do for the city while coaching youth baseball.

He looked out over the infield at Bloch Park and breathed in as if the smell would take him back 30 years.

“This award is usually for coaches that coach for 20 to 25 years or more,” Reece said. “But I went from coaching one team in high school to working with 140 teams during the summer. This is a product of my relationship with the recreation department and the city. In the 1970s and ’80s, we won two or three world championships right here on this field.”

The one player Reece affected the most was largely responsible for this honor.

Todd Reece, who is the baseball coach and an assistant football coach at Chilton County High, nominated his father for induction.

“The ABCA president, Barry Dean, who used to coach at Wallace-Selma, pushed me to nominate him,” Todd said. “I got together all his wins, region championships, region runner-ups and I sent them in. When I heard the news, I was thrilled.”

Like all father-son coaching duos, the Reece’s talk a lot about sports.

However, they probably talk the least about the one thing that bonds them the most.

“Strangely enough, we talk more about football than we do about baseball,” Todd said. “But he misses it some and kind of lives vicariously through me. He calls me on days when we have region games and asks me who I’m pitching. He’ll say ‘Wetumpka has some good hitters’ or something like that.

“He’s not ashamed to be blatantly honest when he thinks I’ve made a mistake. Of course, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.”

For the elder Reece, it’s not wins, it’s not championships, it’s not even an honor as great as the Hall of Fame that stokes his fires.

It’s the same thing that has kept him in the same city for more that 30 years.

“The biggest reward is seeing the players I used to coach coaching kids, and I can see the difference,” Reece said. “I’m going in with three great coaches, and I’m honored to be mentioned with them. It’s unexpected, but again, it’s my ties to Selma and the people here as much as anything I ever did.”

Todd was never forced to play any sport, much less to coach. But doing this job came as naturally for him as it did for his father.

“Like every kid who grows up with a father who’s positive, he was always my role model,” he said. “He was always a part of my life. As a young kid, I was always the bat boy at games if I didn’t have a game myself. It was always my choice. I always wanted to play ball and coach.

“In high school during the summer, I worked with the recreation department with the their T-ball leagues.”

For Elton Reece, one year turned into 34 and one job turned into a hall-of-fame career.

It was a nice thing to think about sitting there in that shady dugout.

“I had chances to leave a bunch of different times to go to some colleges. But when you get to that level, you lose touch with the kids,” Elton said. “In the summer, I coached all the other kids in the city, so I probably have more relationships than the average high school coach. I’ve never wanted to move. This is our home.”