When you’re on a winning team, it’s easy to maintain your competitive spirit.
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If Brett Wolfe had his way, you wouldn't be reading this.
Of all the topics Wolfe longs to discuss, anything about him is last on his list.
But when you reach a milestone like Wolfe did last Friday in Arizona, it simply cannot go unnoticed — even if it is against Wolfe's wishes.
In his 20th season at the helm of the North Medford baseball program, Wolfe secured his 400th victory in a 9-3 decision over Desert Edge of Arizona during last week's Coach Bob Invitational in and around Surprise, Ariz.
The accomplishment was quietly recognized by those in the North Medford program following the win, and Wolfe was more than happy to let it end there. When the subject was broached on Monday, Wolfe was polite but responded, "That doesn't mean anything," on picking up win No. 400.
"That's just the reflection of the kids we've had in our program and their hard work," he added. "It doesn't have anything to do with me."
For a man who gets so many things right on the baseball diamond, Wolfe couldn't be more wrong with that last comment. You don't enter today's game against North Valley with a 400-135-1 career record, according to a listing of high school baseball's all-time coaching leaders in Oregon, without somehow setting the tone for others to follow.
Few people offer the kind of work ethic, attention to detail and ability to teach the game of baseball as Wolfe has shown since he took over the North Medford program from Jim McAbee in 1985. Speak with anyone who has come through the Black Tornado program or followed it closely in any way and there's no debate on whose fingerprints are all over a system that has served North Medford well for so many years.
"He's done so much, from what he's done for the facilities here to what he's done for kids as low down as seventh grade and the summer programs," said longtime assistant coach Sandee Kensinger. "I just don't know a guy who has put in more time than Brett."
The fact that Wolfe didn't want any publicity for reaching 400 wins didn't surprise Kensinger, who has worked in the program since the Medford Senior High days under McAbee.
"He's certainly not a selfish person and he's low-key to what he's done," Kensinger said during a break from practice at North Medford High. "People don't understand, if I spent as much time away from home as he does, I'd be divorced right now. I like to put in the time and have done a lot of stuff here, but not as much as him."
"If you look at this place," he added, "it started from scratch with all the fundraising and work that's been done, it's just incredible. His success shows the time that's been put in for these kids."
For his part, Wolfe said he's always surrounded himself with top-notch assistant coaches — and he has often pushed them to the forefront when crediting the successes of players and teams over the years — and he's simply tried to extend a tradition put in place by McAbee.
"Coach McAbee had it pretty consistent before I got here and I just had to kind of polish some things up and make it my own and take ownership," said Wolfe. "With good players and good coaches around you in a good system, we've been fortunate to put things together and do some good things."
McAbee's career record of 566-230 ranks as the sixth-most wins in Oregon high school history. Astoria's Dave Gasser leads the list and is still going strong as he entered Monday at 678-205. Regis' Don Heuberger (641-241), Tigard's Tom Campbell (630-386), Wilson's Mike Clopton (604-425) and former Grant Union coach Art Thunnel (591-180) make up the top five.
Also among the top 25 in high school victories are former Crater coach Chuck Dominiak, who ranks 16th at 447-242, and former Phoenix coach Joe Hagler, who is 25th at 404-248.
To even be mentioned in connection with some of the all-time great coaches is an honor for Wolfe, but he opts to deflect credit for such status despite averaging 20-plus wins per season.
"Without the kids and their ability to put in the time and manage their school workloads and be good citizens, no one would be able to accomplish any of those numbers," said Wolfe. "I've had some really, really great character kids since I've been here."
"Having good athletes is huge," he added, "and I think you have to have a system of developing players in all aspects of the game. And then you have to have coaches who will help you and buy into what you're doing and you have to have good parents to put a program together. All their success is your success, so 400 wins is just the byproduct of the kids being successful and their work ethic and the support they get at home."
In all honesty, Wolfe said, getting to 400 wins kind of snuck up on him since he typically focuses on the moment at hand.
"When you think about inning by inning, that's a lot of innings and a lot of bus rides and things going on there in that time," he said. "It's interesting because it goes by pretty fast."
If there is a favorite win among the first 400, Wolfe said he'd probably have to lean on the one that secured his only state championship in 2007.
"Obviously the year we won the state title was a big year," he said. "To have my son (Hayden) on that team and be able to do that with a bunch of really good players and fine young men, that has to be a highlight. You strive for that every single year as the pinnacle of all you do, but each and every one has been awesome."
Making it that much better is that the 51-year-old coach feels the most comfortable when he's on the ballfield.
"I have a deep passion for baseball," he said. "Like I told the kids last week, I feel fortunate because every day I'm going out there and doing something I really, really love. Where others go to work and it's maybe not so enjoyable, I get to do something I love and get to share that with other people. I'm very blessed being able to experience that with not only my coaches but the players I have this year and over all my years."
So does that mean another milestone figure may be in Wolfe's future?
"I don't know if I'll get there, that number 500 is a big number," he said. "That's some time down the road. You don't pay attention to numbers. You know they're there because you're always striving to be successful, but more than anything you want to be the guy who helps kids get better. As long as you're doing that and helping kids grow and love this game, those numbers don't really matter because it's not what this is all about."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry