Six hundred and beyond
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
When he began his high school coaching career, William Booth didn't know it would last more than a season or two. Now, 17-and-a-half years later, he is about to become the second coach in the state's history to win 600 games on the high school diamond.
"When I first got the job at Hartselle," Booth said, "I thought it would be for a year or two until the school could get someone else. I looked at it as a hobby. I never dreamed it would last this long."
Booth is now within distance of the all-time Alabama High School Athletic Association record for wins by a baseball coach. Former Vestavia Hill's coach Sammie Dunn finished his career with 647 wins. On his current pace, Booth will pass Dunn some time during the 2006 season.
"I've always said Vestavia Hills is the bench mark for high school baseball in Alabama," Booth said. "My goal was to have a program equal to them. I've said Sammy Dunn is the greatest high school baseball coach of all time, so it will be special to reach Coach Dunn's record."
Booth has reached 600 wins in less than 18 years, while Dunn passed 600 in his 25th year of coaching and stayed until his 27th year at the school before retiring due to health reasons.
Lloyd Skoda, who has coached at both Faith Academy and Daphne High School, has 705 wins in his 30 years of coaching. His wins at Faith, which is an Alabama Independent School Association team, aren't recognized by the AHSAA because Faith is a not a member school.
Skoda doesn't begrudge Booth the AHSAA record. In fact he's pleased for his fellow coach.
"William Booth deserves all the accolades he gets," Skoda said. "He's been a great coach and he's doing things the right way. I'm proud for him reaching 600 wins. I've known him for a long time and I'm also proud to say he's my friend."
While at Hartselle, Booth has been noted for playing the toughest schedule in the state each season.
For example, this season the Tigers have played three teams ranked in the top 10 of Class 6A, in addition to facing the No. 2 ranked team (Russell County) in the entire nation according to Baseball America.
Hartselle has also traveled out of state to take on the some of the best teams other states have to offer, including California, Florida and South Carolina.
"The players have always taken pride in playing the best teams," Booth added. "Playing the best teams each year, may have cost us some wins, but it helps get the team ready for the playoffs."
Booth has led the Tigers to six state championships. According to Booth the number six means more than the 600.
"I think the six state titles are bigger than 600 wins," Booth said. "The state titles bring so much pride to the community, I think they're much more important than total wins."
Two of the wins stand out for Booth as the most memorable. The first one came in the 1992 state semi-finals against Etowah. The Tigers trailed 9-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning and were six outs away from seeing their season end.
Booth surprised everyone on the bench when he told pitcher Jason Drake to warm up because he would pitch the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I didn't know we would score nine runs in the seventh inning, but it's what happened," Booth said.
"We won 10-9. I've still got the box score. It's laminated and it's in my office on the wall."
The other win, which comes quickly to the coach's mind, is the Tigers 1998 matchup with Vestavia Hills. Vestavia was ranked No.1 in the country by USA Today at the time.
The Tigers found themselves in an extra inning game and would fall behind 7-5 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. Hartselle would win 8-7 thanks to a three-run homer in their last at-bat.
Booth said the wins are as easy to remember as the losses. Coming up short in playoff games stays with the Tiger's leader.
"The game I remember the most, is actually a loss," Booth said. In '98 we won 42 games, but we played Vestavia in the finals. We were the smallest 6A school in the state.
"We were tied at one game each and they won the third game to take the state title. I think about that one a lot. The losses stay with you longer."
Booth feels his success is due to the players the city produces and also the community support.
"Timing is everything," Booth said. "When I got the job, a great run of athletes were just coming through Hartselle. The town I think was hungry for a winning baseball program.
"Everything just fell in place for me. I guess I've just been lucky to come on the scene at the right time."
Not only does Booth win, but he's also concerned with treating his players right, according to Hartselle pitching coach Jerry Childers.
"He worries about his players and he tries to get all the kids playing time. He's concerned about their feelings," Childers said. "Coach Booth is a good man and I'm proud to coach with him."
However, the number Booth is the most proud of is the number of Tigers who have graduated from college. Through 2004, 39 of the 74 Tigers who have signed with colleges have received their bachelors' degree.
"We've had many players sign college scholarships," Booth said. "Most of them have graduated. I'm most proud of that fact. I think those are the most important numbers of all."
How much longer will Booth remain the Tigers' coach? Due to his competitive nature, Booth still has goals for the future. He hopes to challenge Dunn's state record of nine state championships.
He said he doesn't have any thoughts of retiring because he's having too much fun in the classroom and on the field.
"I enjoy being a math teacher," Booth said. "I'm not going to retire from coaching until I retire from teaching.
"I won't quit till they find a better math teacher than me. I'm tickled to be where I'm at, and I don't plan on giving it up anytime soon."