Chatham baseball prepares for debut season in 2016
For Tim Banner, coaching baseball has been a way of life.
He has nearly 30 years of coaching under his belt and has won WPIAL and state titles. But an opportunity to start a program at the collegiate level has brought him to Chatham to lead the Cougars.
“I thought about getting into college coaching when I was younger, but I didn't want to pick my family up and move,” Banner said. “I have been around baseball all my life. I thought it would be interesting to build a program from the ground up.”
The 2015-16 campaign will be a milestone year for Chatham athletics as several men's sports will begin. In addition to baseball, the school will offer men's basketball, volleyball, track, cross country and swimming. The addition of the sports coincides with male students being admitted as undergrads for the first time this fall.
When the school began its search for a baseball coach, Banner's daughter Nicole was on the softball team's coaching staff and brought his name up.
Starting a program will be welcomed challenge for Banner. He was a three-year starter at Point Park with a .321 average and played for the North Pittsburgh Semi-Professional Baseball Club for 10 years.
He started his coaching career at Avonworth, leading the Antelopes from 1988-91. After that he was an assistant at Moon.
He followed that with a four-year stint at North Catholic that saw the Trojans win the WPIAL Class AAA title in 1995 and record a runner-up finish in 1998. He coached North Allegheny from 1999 to 2006, winning a state championship in 2000 and a WPIAL title in 2005.
Most recently he led Woodland Hills from 2007-2013. Banner has more than 300 career wins.
Having a wealth of experience at the local high school level has Banner confident about recruiting at Chatham.
“It has helped because I know 95 percent of the coaches in the area, and they know me,” Banner said. “This recruiting cycle was hard because I was hired in November, and that was towards the end.”
The team will have two local prospects on the roster in Penn Hills' Mason Murray-McDonough and Penn-Trafford's Tyler Peymen. Several more WPIAL players could be added.
“There is a lot of good local talent,” Banner said. “I don't think people realize how many players come out of Western Pennsylvania and go all over. It might not get as publicized as football, but we have kids go all over the country.
“We were at a showcase recently and all the athletes had already signed up for colleges.”
In addition to Western Pennsylvania, Banner said the Cougars will look to Ohio and West Virginia players. The staff even has players coming in from Florida, a state that does not have any Division III athletic programs.
“The lineup will likely be all freshmen,” Banner said. “We are going to look for some transfers, but we are going to need some guys to step up for leadership.”
Being at the Division III level offers the challenge of not rewarding players with athletic scholarships.
“For me, I sell the school and the beautiful campus,” Banner said. “Our student-teach ratio is really low. Division III kids are looking for somewhere they can go and get a good education. A lot of Division III kids also come in with a chip on their shoulder because they feel they could have been a D-I or D-II athlete.”
The school is negotiating where to host games, but Banner mentioned West Field in Munhall as a possible destination.
Chatham's men athletics will join the President Athletic Conference at the NCAA Division III level. The team will play an exhibition schedule this season before playing a full conference slate in 2017. Other PAC members include Bethany, Geneva, Grove City, St. Vincent, Thiel, Thomas More, Washington & Jefferson, Waynesburg and Westminster.
“It will be a good fit,” Banner said. “The furthest team is in Kentucky, and everyone else is along the I-79 corridor.”
While he admitted the team may take some lumps in its first season, Banner is excited to lay the ground work for what Chatham wants to do in the future.
“In our first year, a number of kids who start will come back for the future,” Banner said. “We are in a unique situation where there are no seniors, juniors or sophomores ahead of them. They are going to be the guys.”