The blue-collar teens from a farming community just north of the Missouri River arrived at the ballpark every day in the spring toting along their ball gloves, bats and dreams.
Well, that and a collective fearless attitude because, despite representing a Class 1 school, they were often matched opposite Class 5 teams. As one former player put it, “We were scrappy. If you didn’t bring your lunch pail, you were going to get rolled.”
Meet the New Bloomfield High School Baseball Program, put on the map thanks to a determined coach named Rod Haley. The Wildcats emerged as one of the state’s winningest programs under his watchful eye and became a natural fit for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, which is proud to induct New Bloomfield Baseball and its late coach with the Class of 2017.
The induction is part of the Enshrinement in Springfield presented by Killian Construction, set for Sunday, January 29. (See below for tickets and the full lineup.)
Haley built New Bloomfield into a Missouri dynasty in a 12-year period from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. The Wildcats won six Class 1 state championships in that stretch (1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996) and also placed third in 1985 and 1987, fourth in 1988 and tied for third in 1995.
The program won its seventh state title – setting the state record – in 2011 under then-coach Brandon Talbot. That was the team’s first title in Class 2. The 2015 team, coached by Justin Forsythe, placed second in Class 2.
“Dad was a baseball fan. He loved talking about baseball – a real student of the game,” said Haley’s son, Justin, a standout on the 1995 team. “Even with all of his success, he was always trying to learn something new.”
Haley, who passed away in March 2015 at age 62, was 409-106 at Cairo, New Bloomfield and Canton high schools. His winning percentage (.795) is fourth-best in state history.
He got his first taste of coaching at age 16 in a youth league and later was a player-coach on a Ban Johnson League. It became a calling. After graduating from Madison High School and then Culver-Stockton University, Haley began his coaching career at Cairo.
When he arrived a few years later to New Bloomfield, Haley set about working with the town’s youth leagues and, in time, championed the fundraising effort that led to the installation of new lights, a new fence and new dugouts on the high school field.
Fortunately, Haley found a community that loved the game as much as he did, with hundreds of players raising New Bloomfield Baseball’s statewide profile.
Among the names were Brett Craighead, Mark Edwards, Tim Siegel (University of Missouri), Evan Polley (Northwest Missouri State), Rick Boyd (East Central), Brian Phillips (Missouri Western), Joe Ellsworth (Maple Woods juco) and Clay Farris (Maple Woods juco).
All learned right away that Haley expected everyone to execute the fundamentals, which helped the program win 12 consecutive district titles.
“The best way to describe him is no-nonsense,” said Dean Crocker, a senior All-State catcher on the 1996 team. “There were times when you would think he didn’t have your best interest at heart. But years later, you’d look back and realize he made you the best you could be.”
Tony Phillips, a 1994 New Bloomfield graduate who was part of three consecutive state titles, said Haley made New Bloomfield Baseball.
“It’s amazing to me how special he was,” Phillips, now the baseball coach at Southern Boone High School, told the Jefferson City News Tribune. “It seemed that every year we were going to play baseball until June 2nd, or whenever the state championship was. You couldn’t tell me that there was a chance that we wouldn’t be there.”
Haley left no stone unturned. The Wildcats’ regular-season schedule included Class 5 schools such as Jefferson City, Columbia Hickman and Hannibal.
“Our graduating classes had 32 to 38 students and we were playing teams that had 800 students in their school,” Crocker said. “He always said that perfect practice makes perfect. In practice, you came in to work and pay attention.”
The Haley family had an unbelievable love for New Bloomfield High School. Rod served as the boys basketball coach, too, with three teams earning hardware – third place in 1991, second place in 1992 and fourth in 1995. Meanwhile, his wife, Paulette, kept every scorebook at baseball and basketball games.
“He demanded that we put in the best effort because that’s what he was doing,” Justin said. “If he was doing it, he deserved it back from us.”
Without question, the Wildcats gave their best. That’s why they will always be remembered among the state’s best.
ENSHRINEMENT IN SPRINGFIELD
When: Sunday, January 29
Early Reception: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive in Springfield. Event is sponsored by Meek’s The Builder’s Choice.
Reception, dinner & ceremony: 4 p.m. at University Plaza Hotel & Convention Center in downtown Springfield, 5 p.m. dinner and ceremony. Sponsored by Killian Construction. Associate Sponsors are Advertising Plus, Hartman & Company, Inc., Hiland Dairy, Hillyard, Inc. and White River Valley Electric Co-op
Inductees: St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman, Kansas City Royals outfielder Amos Otis, Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, the Voice of the Missouri Tigers, Mike Kelly, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane (University of Central Missouri baseball), former Mizzou football coach Warren Powers, Missouri State volleyball coach Melissa Stokes, Mizzou head athletic trainer Rex Sharp, B.A.S.S. champion Rick Clunn (Ava), motocross champion Jeff Emig (Kansas City), Missouri State basketball standout Kelby Stuckey, NFL referee George Hayward (St. Joseph), the Voice of the Missouri State Bears, Art Hains, track coach Rod Staggs (St. Louis Berkeley), Penney High School football coach David Fairchild and Glendale High School soccer coach Jeff Rogers. The Hall of Fame also will induct the New Bloomfield High School Baseball Program and its coach, the late Rod Haley, and the University of Central Missouri Mules Baseball Program. The John Q. Hammons Founder’s Award will be bestowed on Jack Henry & Associates, and the Hall will present the President’s Award to Leon Combs.
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. A sponsorship table of 10 is $1,500 and includes an autographed print of the Class of 2017, sponsor recognition in the printed program and at the table. An individual ticket is $150. Numerous other sponsorships also are available, including congratulatory ads.