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Hays steps down as Maconaquah baseball head coach

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SOUVENIR: Maconaquah head coach Dustin Hays' jersey was on display as a gift for the departing coach to take with him at Wednesday's Maconaquah Spring Awards Banquet, Hays' final appearance as head coach of the Braves.
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PARTING WORDS: As the emotion of the evening finally caught up with him, Dustin Hays offered his final words as baseball coach at Maconaquah High School during the Maconaquah Spring Awards Banquet Wednesday evening. Hays stepped down as coach after 21 years this season, 19 as head coach of the Braves.
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ONCE MORE: Past and present members of the Maconaquah baseball team share a final team photo with departing head coach Dustin Hays (C) at the Maconaquah Spring Awards Banquet Wednesday evening.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

When the last award was handed out Wednesday night, Dustin Hays turned to the audience in the Maconaquah High School cafeteria and said, “Well, this is it.”

Nothing else wanted to come out, so the crowd helped out with a standing ovation.

Hays, the Braves head baseball coach for the past 19 season, called time on his coaching career at the end of the current season with the Maconaquah Spring Awards Banquet his final outing in an official capacity.

“I’m at a time in life where, with four kids in college and on a teaching salary, my wife (Beth) and I started a business that is pretty prosperous and we’re having fun doing it,” Hays said on making the decision to step down. “Our kids work with us and that’s one of the reasons I decided to step down.

“Another reason was that I just wasn’t having as much fun as I was back in the day. While I like coming out and competing, it was the other aspects of being a head coach and those responsibilities that were becoming more of a job."

Hays, a 1994 graduate of Maconaquah, began coaching for the team in 1999 as an assistant before being handed the reins two years later as head coach.

The timing of the announcement for the majority of people in and around the program came midway through the season though it was a decision that had been made well in advance of the current campaign.

“As we went through the open gyms, I was giving the other coaches more responsibility and started to step back,” Hays noted. “I had only talked to my family about it initially and then the coaching staff towards the end of April.

“It wasn’t until after the Mississinewa game that the team was told. I was a little frustrated about how the game had ended and after we talked to the team about the game, I told them it was going to be my last season.

“Talking with coach (Jason) Winegardner on the way back, we figured the team was either going to die or keep fighting for each other,” Hays added. “We finished the season strong, winning the county tournament and a sectional game.

“I’m happy with and relieved with the decision. I’ll come back, watch and maybe throw some batting practice if that’s agreeable.”

Over the past 21 years, Hays noted there were numerous parts of the game that were different than today but stressed the important things would always be the same.

“It’s changed a lot,” Hays said about the game over the course of his coaching days. “I would come back in college, volunteer here and there, before being hired as an assistant coach for two years under two different head coaches before being named the head coach.

“Baseball is in my blood. I played here, went to play in college, came back and had a job where I was able to volunteer, helping guys out with hitting and whatnot.

“Kids change, times have changed, baseball has changed, talking today about digital tracking, arm angles, velocity of the bat etc.,” Hays added. “But when you break it down, we taught the fundamentals of fielding and pitching, which never change, and while I’ve changed with the game, it’s time for me to step back and watch.”

While plenty had changed, Hays said the one constant was the interaction between players and coaches.

“I could have a story about every single kid that’s played for me,” Hays said. “It’s about building a relationship with the kids, having them do what they can to win a ball game and as a coach, giving all the knowledge and fundamentals they need to be successful.

“There were former players who came this evening and many others who have called or messaged me, talking about this or that. That’s what it’s all about.”

Around a dozen former players were at the awards banquet along with current members of the squad and parents, one of several surprises that Beth Hays setup for the occasion.

“We’re in the middle of getting things ready for graduation and (Beth) was still organizing this while also running our business,” Hays said. “I had no idea any of this was going to happen.

“It was good to see some guys that I coached 10 to 15 years ago and even a guy like Brandt Murphy who played and coached for me. It was great to see these guys.”

As for the program, which is still searching for its first sectional title since 1994, which happened to be Hays’ senior season with the Braves, the departing head coach said there was plenty of talented players to work with for 2020.

“Our sophomore and junior classes are really good,” Hays pointed out. “Whoever is going to come in here next will have a good nucleus to start with next season.

“The program is on the upswing and better than when I took it over, which was my goal from the get-go.”

As for whoever takes over the program, Hays said he would be there to support them and the team moving forward.

“Each person is going to put their own stamp on the program,” Hays said. “I do know that coach Winegardner (Bill) Tabler and (Jeremy) Stapleton will all be coming back and continue to work on some of the things that we’ve implemented that have helped the program.

“The guys liked some of the competition to see where they stood beyond just batting average and it will be something they will mention to the new coach. Whoever Mr. (Casey) Stouffer hires, I will be supporting them no matter what.

“I know how difficult is to be a head coach, so if it’s a young guy or an experienced coach, I’ll support the new coach.”