Cal's Hartman steps down
When Don Hartman watched his California Trojans get eliminated from the PIAA Class A playoffs in the semifinals by Johnsonburg in June he knew it wasn't just any game.
He knew that after 23 years, it would be his last one as head coach.
One of the most successful baseball coaches in WPIAL history, Hartman resigned this week.
The school board is expected to act on his resignation at the Nov. 20 meeting.
Athletic Director Phil Pergola said that through the posting and search process he hopes a replacement will be on board by February.
While it wasn't easy, Hartman knew it was the right thing to do.
“I have three daughters at home and my oldest is now in middle school (at Frazier) and I feel have to be home for them, to watch them play softball,” Hartman said. “I was on the fence the last couple of years because I knew this day would come. I could have coached maybe one more year, but in 2014 I was out no matter what because of my own kids.
“I couldn't see myself getting on a bus to take my team to West Greene when my daughter is pitching in Bentworth.”
He also said the timing will be beneficial to his successor.
“I figured with what we have up here now (at California), it would be better to step back now and let the new coach have that kind of team instead of walking into a total rebuilding project,” Hartman said.
The Trojans, who went 20-6 in 2013, will return eight starters, losing only senior Brian Fisher.
Hartman began his coaching career in 1991 as an assistant to the late J. Budd Grebb and took over as head coach in 1998.
In 16 years, he compiled a 229-92-1 record with nine section titles, 13 WPIAL playoff appearances, five WPIAL final four appearances and four trips to the title game, winning in 2001 and 2006.
His teams made nine PIAA appearances and reached the semifinals twice.
“This is the hardest decision I ever made, yet the easiest,” he said. “It's bittersweet because I gave 23 years to this program — to these kids — and it is tough to walk away from that. I love coaching, but I love being a father, too.”
He paused for a minute and said, “If I had three sons, I'd be coaching here until they carried me out in a box because I could coach my sons. But I have three daughters and it is time I put them first.”
Hartman said he met with his players Wednesday in what he termed a shocking and emotional meeting.
“They didn't expect it and it was tough for them, tough for me. I'm not going to lie,” he said. “I have always called my team a family. I have always said the most important things to me are my maker, my blood family and my baseball family. So yeah, it was hard. I never looked at coaching here as just a job.
“I played here for four years and then went to Cal U and played, and as soon as I graduated I came right back here and put that uniform back on again as a coach,” he added. “I've spent 27 of the last 31 years in that uniform and I'm only 45 years old. You don't think I bleed this place and these kids?”
He said he will always cherish the relationships he had over the years with his players.
“This has always been a special place and these kids more than anything else made it that way,” he said. “It amazes me the relationships I forged with so many kids here — like Shawn (Rice), my former player and then assistant — relationships that remain special to this day.”
Even though his Trojans didn't know it this past season, they gave him a final season to remember.
Faced with rebuilding half his lineup and most of his pitching, Hartman saw the Trojans post a 20-6 record and reach the PIAA semifinals despite being a section runner-up during the season.
“You know, this was the most successful year I ever had without winning a championship and I told my kids that,” he said. “I lost five four-year starters from a team that went to the WPIAL title game and I replaced them with mostly sophomores. This team grew as a unit as the season went on and that's where tradition comes in. These kids worked and they went further than I ever imagined they would.
“They took me on a ride I will never forget.”
Hartman said he is hoping his assistants, Nick Damico and Shawn Rice, stay with the program.
“I think Nick, who is a teacher here, is going to apply for the job and Shawn would stay as his assistant,” Hartman said. “That way, the program can continue the direction we have guided it in. That is my biggest fear that when I leave, things will change. I love these kids too much for that to happen.”
He added that, if Damico and Rice stick around, he could too as a volunteer.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “I'm a teacher in the school. I could work with the kids in school during the day like I always have. I can see them to the bus and even help out when my girls don't have anything going on. That would be great.”
Regardless, Hartman says he doesn't think his coaching days are over.
“I always knew my family came first and I would have to take a break, but once my girls are done with school down the road, I'm certain I will be wearing a uniform again coaching.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.