SIDNEY — The last game of Dave King’s career was a loss. That’s the case for most coaches when they retire — you’d have to retire after winning a state championship otherwise.
It wasn’t just any loss for King, who retired after 39 seasons as a head coach following the conclusion of Lehman Catholic’s baseball season.
The defeat was heartbreaking epic. The Cavaliers lost 2-1 in a Division IV district semifinal against Mechanicsburg on May 22 in a 13-inning affair that was played over two days at Miami East High School.
And though it ended Lehman’s season with a 22-5 record and King’s career with a 625-394-3 record, it was a final reminder for King on why he coached.
“It was a great, great game, a great game to be a part of,” King said. “There are so many things that can happen during a game and so many breaks that go your way or not. It was a tough one, but it was a fun one to be a part of.”
King, who coached for 25 years at Sidney and also coached at Jackson Center for two seasons before starting at Lehman in 2008, decided in April that the season would be his last.
It was a storied career that made him perhaps the most well-known coach in Shelby County. He became the 18th coach in Ohio history reach 600 career coaching wins late last season and was inducted into the Ohio High School’s Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame in January.
“I’m just thankful for the support of the administrations, the support I had from the parents and players, to be able to go on as long as I did,” King said. “I’ve touched a lot of people, and that feels good.”
King was an assistant coach at Sidney for one season and became the program’s head coach in 1977. He led the program and coached until 2002, then took a four-year broke from coaching to watch several of his children play collegiate sports.
He began coaching again in 2006 at Jackson Center and stayed there for two seasons. He then took over at Lehman two years later.
“I didn’t anticipate coming back (to coaching),” King said after stepping down from Sidney. “All four of our kids were playing college sports around that time, so we got to travel around and watch them and do a lot with that.
“… But they had an opening at Jackson Center and got ahold of me, and next thing I knew, I was their baseball coach. Lehman came open two years later, and (the school) is five minutes from my house. I ended up applying for it and got it.”
King was born in Cleveland and later moved with his family to Lima. He graduated for Lima Senior and then served in the Marine Corps.
He began working at a bank after being discharged, but later attended and played baseball at Ohio Northern.
“I didn’t think I would go to college and was still playing baseball in a nice league …but after talking to (Ohio Northern’s) coach, I decided to give it a try,” King said.
That action led him to Shelby County, which he was only slightly familiar (he had an uncle that lived in Sidney) He decided to pursue a teaching degree at Ohio Northern and became a student teacher in Sidney.
That led to him acquiring a teaching position in the school district.
“I basically came here in ’73 and ’74 and got the job in ’74,” King said. “I didn’t start coaching right away. I wanted to, but I wasn’t picked then. I did get started in football with Dave Haines — he thought since I knew something about catching, I could be a receivers coach. Then I got picked (for baseball) the next year.
“You’ve got to be in the right place in the right time. People don’t seem to stay long where they teach or coach at anymore — they move on. But I was happy, and my wife was happy. We’ve got a great family, and this is our home away from home, since neither of us are from here.”
King has been married to his wife Charlene for 42 years. He said he’s looking forward to spending more time with her and his four children, as well as grandchildren and other family. He also said a trip to spring training games in Florida or Arizona is on the agenda.
“If I didn’t have the support of my family, I couldn’t have done it,” King said. “We had some fun with it, but I missed things you really shouldn’t have missed. Coaches sacrifice, and their families sacrifice and pay the price.”
King also said the success he’s enjoyed in his career wouldn’t have happened without the support of dozens of assistant coaches, including the likes of Eric Haralmert, Joe Harrmann and Rob Fridley (who played at Sidney and was the winning pitcher in King’s first career game).
“No one does it alone,” King said. “You need great baseball minds, and you need to let them coach, too, because it’s not all about you.
“And all my players… my career is all about them, basically. They put the sweat in, and they played the game. I made a few right decisions and a few wrong decisions, but the bottom line is you mull the team, and I loved doing that. That’s what I’m going to miss — the comradery.”
King was also a boys basketball official for 33 years and coached three sports a year for 35 years. He has also retired from coaching Sidney Middle School girls basketball but will continue to coach boys golf at Jackson Center. He will start his 12th season as the Tigers’ coach in August.
“I’m just thankful I had the opportunity to coach a great game for 40 years,” King said. “In my lifetime, 65 of my 70 years, I’ve been involved in baseball somehow, either playing or coaching.”
“It’s been the game of the life. It’s just a great game. I’m just fortunate enough to have been able to touch 40 teams. Every player, whether great players, above average players, average players or below average players, you make a team, and I’m going to miss that. But I know it’s time.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.