There was a certain level of shock registered in many high school gyms last winter as fans and longtime followers of opposing teams suddenly realized Mike Long was not on the bench coaching the Jayettes.
The scenes are sure to be repeated on baseball diamonds next summer as opposing fan bases grasp that Long is not in the dugout, ready to skipper the Bluejays for another season.
Long spent 40 years leading the Jayettes to 556 victories. He guided the 1988 six-player team to the state tournament, and then, in the last year of six-player, led the 1993 team to state. His Jayettes appeared in the 2000 tourney, and won a state championship in 2002.
On the diamond he finished 720-420 (.632) after first turning in a varsity lineup card back in 1978. The Bluejays were second in 1987, 1991 and 1998, and reached the state tournament in 1999, 2002 and 2004 as well.
Along the way he coached an uncounted number of all-conference players in both sports, with many earning all-district and even all-state status. His instruction and guidance helped develop the skills that allowed a great number of those to continue their athletic careers at various collegiate levels.
The numbers are worth stating again: a total of 1,276 times Perry’s players experienced a varsity victory with Long as head coach. He instructed many girls and boys who later had their own sons and daughters play for their old coach.
The trophy cases at PHS are filled with hardware collected under his tutelage. The corridor of photos showing all-state players are a testament to his ability to draw the best from the athletes he encountered.
And, in the end, none of that really matters.
What matters, Long once told this writer, is that men and women now in their 50’s will see him, smile, and still call him ‘coach.’ It is all he has ever really wanted to do, he has repeatedly said.
There are always detractors and naysayers, of course. Do anything long enough and you are certain to rub some the wrong way. It is human nature.
However, lengthy tenures serve as a testament to themselves. You do not stick around for decades if you are not having success, and not just in the win-loss column.
The impact Long’s instruction and guidance has had on so many have been evidenced in the past two years as many of those have come forward to thank their former coach. He pushed his charges to never deny themselves of giving their best effort, and he demanded that his players compete with the highest level of sportsmanship.
The term ‘life lessons’ can be a bit ethereal, and can mean one thing to one person and another to their neighbor. Regardless of definition, it is clear Long passed on a great many such lessons, which have had a powerful and positive impact on scores and scores of men and women.
Coaching two different sports presents obvious challenges. Perhaps underappreciated is the the quite real and often starkly different psychological approaches needed to successfully coach teenage boys as opposed to teenage girls. As any parent who has had at least one of each gender will tell you, the are two different creatures altogether.
But competing hard, and fairly, and executing to the best of your abilities works for both. So does being willing to sweat and suffer on behalf of your teammates, and for a common cause. And winning humbly, and losing graciously, are not one thing for Bluejays and another for Jayettes.
For four decades Mike Long has played a role in the lives of so many of the youth in this community. The impact of such a tenure is immeasurable.
In the end, Long received what he most wanted, as his players and many others came up to congratulate him, wish him well, and offer the greatest gift: “Thanks, coach.”