Binney covered all the bases
Retirement roast set Saturday at 6 p.m. for acclaimed Tornado softball coach
In the nearly two decades Larry Binney coached softball at Medford and North Medford high schools, he never forgot about the kid on the end of the bench or the player struggling in the field.
Sure, all-state performers, slick fielders, swift slappers creating frenzy on the bases, long-ball hitters and masterful pitchers paved the way for three state championships and 16 Southern Oregon Conference crowns in 19 seasons.
But just as likely, it was Binney's organizational skill, the way he handled his staff and squad, while nurturing future players that made him national coach of the year in 1998.
Binney, who retired at the end of the spring season, is being honored in an invitation-only roast 6 p.m. Saturday at Red Lion Inn. He knew what it was like to be passed over when the coach penciled in the lineup card and what it was like to be bumped from a starting role.
I know what it's like to be a kid on the bench, replaced by a pinch-hitter or a defensive change, Binney says. I started every game (for Klamath Union) my senior year. And then in the state championship game, the coach (Bill Mansfield) took me out of the lineup because we were facing a left-handed pitcher.
Gut wrenching as it may have been, Binney didn't complain.
Harley Dickerson saw similar qualities when he played baseball with Binney at Southern Oregon University.
Larry was a starter (at first base) on the Southern Oregon baseball team in 1965, Dickerson says. He could really field his position and was a darn good hitter as well. The next year, this big, 6-4 guy (Jeff Rude) shows up and he could hit the heck out of the ball. He hit about.385, hit the long ball better and made a nice target for the infield.
Binney lost his starting job, although he resurfaced in the outfield.
At the time I thought, that man's a tough guy. He shows up and doesn't whine or gripe, says Dickerson, who played with and against Binney in the old Jackson County Fastpitch Softball Association and later coached against Binney before joining his staff this spring.
He didn't talk about poor Larry. In the years since, he has never said, ?That ticked me off.? I've always respected him for handling that.
In building a 445-98-1 record, Binney identified with the hard-working reserve as much as the all-star.
A lot of times as a coach, it's a real tough call, Binney says. You don't want to take away a kid's confidence. I've always felt like everyone had a role. It was important to accept that role and keep on plugging away because some time you?re going to get your opportunity.
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— the time he graduated from high school in 1964, Binney knew he wanted to teach and coach.
A year later, he had his first coaching assignment, a Babe Ruth baseball team in Corning, Calif. His dad was a bookkeeper for a mill that had been bought and moved to the Sacramento Valley community.
I worked in the mill that summer and coached baseball, Binney says.
I enjoyed being with the kids and they were eager to learn.
He moved up to American Legion baseball three summers later, working under Snuffy Smith as a coach for the Ashland Merchants. In 1969 he became head coach.
There was no particular coach he modeled himself after, but Binney was influenced by the likes of Al Keck, Johnny Paxton and Bob Williams, who coached him when he played for the Klamath Falls Falcons American Legion team.
I would categorize him as a self-made coach, Dickerson says. If he saw something that worked he would put it into his program.
Binney rarely provided bulletin board fodder for opponents. It wasn't his style. Perhaps it had something to do with Williams? words of wisdom when Binney was a 15-year-old freshman.
We were going down Pine Street in Central Point, Binney recalls. It was a school day and we were going to play a doubleheader. As we came into town there were some students along Pine Street yelling at us and we were yelling back, acting like a bunch of jerks. Williams stood up and got our attention: ?Gentlemen, we are going to sneak into town, win a couple of games and sneak out.? A lot of our girls have heard that same quote.
Binney also knew the Black Tornado mystique was a double-edged sword. Tradition was worth its weight in gold, but also made every opponent come gunning for all they were worth.
There's no sense firing up the enemy, Binney says.
Because of the athletic tradition of the Black Tornado, people got fired up to beat you anyway. There was no reason to add more fuel.
After his baseball days, Binney started playing in the JCSA, where he learned many of the nuisances of softball.
He was in his ninth year teaching at Jefferson Elementary when Oregon's first high school softball championship game was played in 1979. Medford fielded its first team in 1980, coached by the late Ben Fagone. Two years later Binney was offered the job, with strings attached.
The assistant superintendent (Richard Slaven) came to me in the fall of 1981 and said the softball job was mine if I would coach intramurals, Binney says.
It was the same year that Medford dropped its grade school program and went with intramurals. A lot of the coaches felt the program had been tremendously beneficial and decided to boycott the intramurals.
Williams, by then the Medford High principal, was firmly in his former player's corner and suggested Binney just say no to the intramurals.
Three days later I ran into (Slaven) away from the office and he said, ?The job is yours and don't worry about the intramurals.? But I ended up coaching intramurals with Sam Pecktol anyway.
At first Binney says his baseball and men's fastpitch softball influenced his coaching. But he quickly learned to alter his approach.
You have to coach the game differently, he says.
The aim-for-the-fences approach wouldn't necessarily work with girls. But his daring running game fit nicely.
I always personally liked that because it was something I could do as a player, Binney says.
If you make something happen by slapping, hit and run, and running the bases, you can manufacture runs. With the dominant pitching of softball, you?re not always able to score a lot of runs by just hitting the ball.
We've been blessed for a lot of years with some quick kids. God gave them the ability to run fast.
There were exceptions: The 1984 state championship team and the late-1990s dynasty clubs that blended both speed and power to reach the finals three straight years and win two titles.
We were more of a power team in 1984 because Angie Jacobs and Carrie Larson could crush the ball as well as any of the kids we had in 19 years,?? Binney says.
The 1998 team may have been in a class by itself, and not just among Tornado teams.
I really think the 1998 team was the best high school team ever assembled in Oregon, Binney says.
North Eugene's Mike Jodoin, Putnam's Jerry Stidham and former Churchill coach Steve Minney may be the only ones around long enough to be qualified to make that statement, Binney says.
Churchill's dominant teams of the 1980s were built around pitching and rarely had to rely on fielding and hitting. The ?98 Tornado had it all.
Our defense, our hitting, and not giving up a run in five playoff games — that was impressive, Binney says.
We had traveled 1,600 miles and (state runner-up) Tualatin had gone about 45 miles. But our kids didn't complain. They took their homework on the bus and when it was time to get off the bus, they were ready to get after it.
There were two teams that didn't win state championships that Binney looks back on fondly as well, 1989 and 2000.
I was proud of what those teams accomplished,?? he says. Both years, we had good senior leadership. Tonya Mencas, Viki Fields and Robin Snyder were the only seniors with a bunch of sophomores (in 1989). We took second in league and lost in the first round to Churchill.
Snyder just completed her third year as St. Mary's head coach. She has tried to emulate her mentor in developing her program.
Larry had a way of bringing a team together with his motivational style, Snyder says. His excitement and love for the game showed up in everything he did. He was demanding and expected a lot. But he did it in a positive way. He was able to get people focused, yet at the same time enjoy the moment and relax. Looking back, I don't know how he did it.
Eventually, I hope to inspire kids like that. Everyone wanted to play their best for Larry. That was their ultimate goal.
Not long after taking over
the program, Binney concluded in order to compete with the state's top teams that it would take more than rolling the balls out in late January, working hard for four months and then have the kids play a few summer games.
I realized everyone Eugene and north was playing (Amateur Softball Association) and I could see the benefits, he says. They were playing 40, 50, 60 games a summer and we were playing 15 Little League games, plus whatever the all-stars played.
— the early 1990s, the Tornado ASA program had 12-U, U-14, U-16 and U-18 teams. In 1992, the U-12 team featuring Taysha Anderson, Missy Coe, Megumi Hackett, Steph Adams, Jill Rutter and Erin Glantz went to the national ASA tournament.
One thing that benefited us was that our 12s, 14s and 16s stayed together as a North Medford team, Binney says. Maybe we added a kid or two, but very few. A lot of the other programs in the state put together kids from seven or eight (school) attendance areas.
I just kind of like the idea of high school athletics, kids you have in your area and working with them. That's what athletics at this age level are about.
That thinking had a lot to do with why Binney switched from Jefferson to Lone Pine Elementary School when Medford divided into two high school districts in the fall of 1986.
I had a choice of what school I wanted to coach at, Binney says.
Lone Pine was overcrowded and only had two sixth-grade teachers. I had a chance to transfer and I wanted to stay with the Black Tornado.
He stayed six years at Lone Pine before moving to Hedrick Middle School seven years ago. He plans to teach one more year.
Also key to his success, Binney has surrounded himself with knowledgeable assistants and volunteers.
Duke Anderson was Binney's volunteer pitching coach for 18 years.
You can sum up the way Larry handled people in one great big word: Respect, Anderson says. Larry would find out who you were, what you knew and then say go do it. You were always assured, you were never going to get griped at. Disagreements, yes, but never fights.
He treated parents, umpires, players and assistant coaches all with respect. You never saw Larry come unglued. If Larry never knew the difference between right field and second base, his ability to handle people would put him on a pedestal, as far as I'm concerned.
It was the unexpected death of one volunteer, Mike Daugherty, that Binney deems the low-point of his career.
You have highs and lows in coaching that go with wins and losses, but Mike's passing was really hard, Binney says. His daughter had played a couple of years for us and he had coached the Lithia Honda U-19 team with me and T.P. Jones that went back to nationals in 1989. He had just started coaching high school kids before he died (in 1996).
Ten of the last 11 years, the Tornado won the SOC or shared first place.
The pinnacle achievement of his career — national coach of the year -? came as a bit of a surprise.
When (the announcement) came in the mail, I threw it on the couch and didn't even look at it until the next day, Binney recalls. I thought at first that it said that, hey you've been nominated for national coach of the year. I read it about six times and it was talking about going to these meetings in Kansas City.
The first people he told were assistant coaches Rod Rumrey, who was a co-captain with Binney on the 1969 Southern Oregon baseball team, and Jones.
I was overwhelmed by that, Binney says. I've always felt the individual success I've had was because of the tremendous coaches I had.