- July 15, 2020
The sound was unmistakable. If you heard it once, you’ve never forgotten it. Indeed, I had heard it many, many times. The sound of a baseball coming off a bat in the acoustically challenged, antiquated gymnasium of South Williamsport’s Rommelt Building is like no other. As I approached the gym doors, an accompanying sound was
The sound was unmistakable. If you heard it once, you’ve never forgotten it. Indeed, I had heard it many, many times. The sound of a baseball coming off a bat in the acoustically challenged, antiquated gymnasium of South Williamsport’s Rommelt Building is like no other.
As I approached the gym doors, an accompanying sound was barking orders in a distinctive southern accent, the likes of which this old South Williamsport landmark has probably never heard. The voice was upbeat and enthusiastic, and the smiles on the faces of the young athletes to which it was directed seemed to be enjoying their first coaching encounter from the Mountaineers’ new high school baseball coach.
Casey Waller has been through similar moments in his successful coaching career at Loyalsock and Hughesville. The twang in his voice is the product of his Virginia upbringing, and the knowledge he was directing at South Williamsport’s 2020 baseball hopefuls has been gained through a lifetime love of baseball and his collegiate and professional baseball playing careers. He is a product of the south, but this was South Williamsport, and the question had to be asked, ‘why South Williamsport?’
“There is some irony to that question,” Waller responded. “When I first moved to this area back in 1994, Joe DeSanto was the coach at South, and I used to come over here and help Joe with Jimmy Beck and Shawn Finn as a volunteer. Of course, for many seasons, Shawn enjoyed a very successful coaching career here, and now I’ve come full circle as the new head coach. I’m excited to be back in baseball and to lead and prepare a team to compete.
“I am looking forward to this opportunity. After my coaching years at Loyalsock, I stepped away from the game as my wife, Dane, was pregnant with our daughter, Easton. During that time, I realized how much I missed the game, as it is my passion. Being away from it was a lot harder than I realized. I then enjoyed the opportunity to coach at Hughesville for six years. Then for a couple of years, I watched baseball from the sidelines. That got to be a bit frustrating for me. That was tough. I love teaching the game. Last season I helped Chris Kish at Hughesville as an assistant coach. So when this opportunity at South came about, I talked it over with my family, and am excited to be back coaching.”
Assisting Waller, who is a physical education teacher at Loyalsock, are Steve Stennet, a longtime coach at Hughesville, and Kurt Wertz, one of the best players ever to play for the Mountaineers. The initial player response has been positive, with 29 players responding to the early signups.
Describing his coaching style as ‘a hard-nosed, blue-collar mentality,’ Waller’s coaching record brings instant credibility having compiled a win/loss log of 209-60-1 — good for a 78% winning mark.
“I have an understanding of what it’s like from all three perspectives, from a player’s standpoint, a coach’s standpoint, and a parent’s standpoint. So, I understand mentally from every angle where players and parents can be upset. I’m not always going to make the right decision, but as long as our players understand that we have their best interests at heart, and they trust us to make those decisions, we’ll be fine this year.
“I am well aware of the successful programs South has had in previous years, highlighted by reaching the PIAA state semi-finals last year. I consider myself a disciplinarian, but I’m not coming in trying to take over from anyone. I’m just trying to continue what has already been built here and continue that tradition. That is my goal, and to help these kids on and off the field.”
Coming to a smaller school and addressing the dilemma of the sharing of athlete participation in other sports, Waller feels his players benefit from playing multiple sports.
“I think kids should play multiple sports. I don’t think they should individualize and play one sport year-round. I played multiple sports, and the day-in-day-out grind of those sports helped prepare me, and instilled a proper work ethic. I want to go watch my players playing and enjoying other sports, and I’ll be cheering for them to do so. I know that competitive edge will carry over into baseball.
“I also want them to know that when they are playing other sports, those sports should be their main focus. I never want to be a distraction from that. But, at the same time, if they want to do something on the side, I will be available for them. But, I will never overstep my bounds with another coach.”
Beginning with the 2020/21 school year, South Williamsport’s teams will be joining new leagues with the football team competing in the Northern Tier and the basketball squads in the Mid-Penn Conference. What the new baseball schedule looks like is not yet determined.
As for Waller’s preference: “I want us to be playing the toughest teams out there in baseball. I believe it prepares us for the districts and higher competition. I want to play all the local teams and look forward to playing in the Backyard Brawl. I think those kind of games are good for the community.”
With Christmas approaching, Waller admitted he is compiling a list for Santa.
“At home, all my athletic clothing is either Maroon & White or Green & White. Now I am representing South Williamsport and the Blue & White. I’m definitely behind the eight ball on that right now. Hopefully, Santa Claus can help me out with that.”