For SA's Garber, success not just measured in wins
ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- It's not the state championship, conference titles or wins that drive St. Albans' Greg Garber.
Sure, he has plenty of those, including notching his 500th career win last week. What keeps the Red Dragons' 21st-year softball coach coming back to the diamond year after year is the gleam in a players' eye when they accomplish something for the first time.
"When you see their success, whether it's their first hit or a conference championship or a state championship,'' said Garber after returning Thursday evening from a doubleheader sweep at Clay County. "I see the kids getting better and better.
"I got a note just a couple of weeks ago from one of my players, 'Coach, I made a 3.0. I finally got that 3.0.' Just to see the satisfaction in my players' successes, whether it's on the field or off. I love the game and I love the kids.''
Garber has built one of the most successful programs in the Kanawha Valley and along the way reached a personal milestone with 506 victories and counting in 23 years at SA and George Washington (two years).
SA captured the Class AAA 2010 state championship for the school's and Garber's first title, and has won four Mountain State Athletic Conference championships (2006-08 and 2010). This year is shaping up to be no different, as Garber has guided the Red Dragons to a 12-0 record and the sixth spot in this week's Class AAA West Virginia Sports Writers poll.
"That's something I'm real proud of,'' said Garber of experiencing only one losing season in 23 years. "A lot of schools can have a good influx of talent, win for three or four years, but to develop a program that you consistently win, that's more important to me than the one state championship.
"It takes a program to consistently win. The effort that they see I give them, that's one of the reasons I get the effort back. I don't think you can ask the kids to work real hard if you're not working real hard. I don't want anyone to outwork us; to me that would be an injustice to the kids.''
The Red Dragons have also produced 60 players who have been offered the opportunity to play at the college level and three state players of the year.
"We had a reunion a couple of years ago and I had over 100 former players come back to that,'' Garber said. "You see nurses, doctors, lawyers and teachers.
"That makes you feel good when you know you've had a little bit of a part. A lot of them tell me, 'Coach, what we learned in softball, yelling and getting on them and making sure they do things the right way, teach them responsibility and showing up on time, paid off in life.'''
Garber said his wife, Clara, whom he has been married to for 22 years, is the reason he's still in the third-base coaching box. The two met when Garber was coaching Clara's son in fifth-grade basketball all-stars.
"She does without me a lot,'' said the SA coach. "She goes through a lot just to let me do what I love. She's been to a lot of games. She's special.''
Ali Haynes and Mariah Caudill probably know Garber better than anyone on the field. Haynes is his niece and pitcher the past four years for the Red Dragons, while Caudill has been the four-year starting catcher. Haynes and Caudill also played on little league teams that Garber led to a pair of state titles and the ASA World Series championship.
"He's passionate about the game,'' said Haynes, who has signed to play at West Virginia State. "He wakes up in the middle of the night, 'So and so didn't get that bunt down. So and so didn't run the bases right,' and tells us about it the next day. Sometimes we'll get halfway out the fence [after practice] and he'll say, 'Wait, wait, wait! Do you remember this play?' I learn something new every day.''
"He's a lot harder on us, but that's only gotten us better,'' added Caudill. "In the long run, it helps us. Some days I complain about it, but it's definitely fun. If I needed him, I could go to him any time. If I miss a popup [behind the plate] he [practices me] every day until I get it right. He never ends on failure.''
For Garber wins and losses aren't only measured in his high school program. After arriving back from the road trip to Clay on Thursday, the SA coach and several players were working with the St. Albans' little leaguers.
"We try to give back to the community,'' he said. "We'll have different clinics. Last year we had three free ones. We had 40 or 50 kids here from the community and my older ones working with them. Get them enthused about it, working hard and show them the correct way.
"It takes so much to do a program. I can't do it all by myself. I've got to have the players and I've got a lot of good helpers, whether it's dragging the field, running the pressbox, my boosters president and the community.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.