The triumphs, championships and glory are by-products of what American Legion baseball is really all about, Brian Long said.
“And that is to help young men grow,” he said Thursday. “That is the spirit of American Legion baseball. That should be the spirit of all youth sports. This program is the epitome of what is good about youth sports. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished as coaches, as a board and as a community for these young guys.”
Following his team’s third consecutive state title, Long made an announcement Wednesday that he is stepping down as the head coach of Ottawa Post 60 Arrows via the KOFO Radio Coaches Show at Pizza Time, 208 S. Main St., Ottawa, and on his Facebook page. Long coached the triple-A team for three seasons, all ending with state championships. Before that, he was the head coach of the single-A team for five years.
The decision came about as early as last year, he said, after looking ahead and realizing the need to spend more time with his sons, Ryne, 7, and Rece, 5.
“To be the head coach of a team, with the energy and the time that is required to continue to be successful at this level, something was going to have to give,” Long said. “I looked at it from a sense of, ‘Can I do both? How can I handle and manage all of this stuff?’ I looked at what we had with Spencer [Hawkins] and Nathan [Roth] there as assistant coaches. If they were the ones that they chose to put into that role to succeed me, could they do it? The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’ With the leadership of the [American Legion] board, it just became a good time to do it.”
His wife, Heather Long, has been supportive through his tenure as head coach, and he noted she will appreciate him being around more often.
It wasn’t a tough question when asked about what his biggest take away from coaching will be.
“Hands down, the young men,” Long said. “I don’t even have to think about that. To see them grow into adulthood, and that bridge, those experiences and those successes whether they are going on to play baseball or going on to be a student, my opinion is the guys who went through the complete program, stayed with it and picked up on all the life lessons and the things we tried to influence them on, they are set up for success. I couldn’t be more proud of those young men.”
Long noted he won’t be too far away from the game even though he’s stepping down. While he won’t be at the ballfield every night, he said he wants to be a fulcrum for American Legion Baseball as a whole, especially for his coaching colleagues he’s built relationships with over the years.
“Over the past few years, I’ve developed a lot of relationships with other towns and coaches,” he said. “Everybody has great ideas, but nobody has time as a coach to step forward and say, ‘I will organize this.’ They don’t have time, and that is what happened with me. There’s a million ideas that run through a coach’s head — ‘How do we make American Legion baseball stronger? How do we continue to increase participation? How do we improve the experience for these young men?’ That is what I’m looking at, taking on some vocal leadership.”
While there’s no official position Long is looking to take on, he said he’s interested in helping improve the game any way he can.
Taking on challenges is nothing new for Long, Luke Queen, Ottawa American Legion Baseball board member, said. This year’s K-Cancer game, which took place June 23, helped raise funds for the Franklin County Cancer Foundation. That idea was brought to the board, and then executed by Long.
“That was all him,” Queen said. “There are so many things that he did that weren’t just baseball. He really did a great job of focusing on what Legion ball is really about, which is taking young boys and helping to make them into good citizens, good young men and providing them leadership and a direction to follow. He was outstanding in doing that. We, as a board, never had to coach him, or explain that to him.”
The board’s decision on who will take over one of the most successful American Legion programs in the Midwest is forthcoming, and Queen said the announcement could take place as early as this fall.
“We’ve got our eye on some people, absolutely,” he said. “We still have to see what their interest and availability is.”