June 13, 2016

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – With nearly 1,300 career wins in 33 seasons as head coach of the John A. Logan College baseball team, Jerry Halstead has announced that he will retire from his position as coach and athletic director at the end of August.

That news spread like wildfire last month throughout the Great Rivers Athletic Conference and all of junior college baseball. Few coaches have enjoyed more success on the field than Halstead. Very few.

In fact, only Lloyd Simmons with Seminole State College (1,599), Steve Bazarnic of Allegany College of Maryland (1,400-plus), Bob Symonds of Triton College (1,383), and Perry Keith of Connors State (1,375) are known to have won more.

While being mentioned in such elite company is impressive, Halstead has never focused on any individual accomplishments, just team accomplishments.

“You always think you could have been a little better, but I think our success over the years speaks for itself,” he said. Halstead said wins are important, but they are not all that matters.

“Baseball is like life. It’s day-to-day, not once a week. It’s about accountability, time management, and discipline. I expected our players to get after it every day in practice just as I expected them to get after it every day in the classroom. I believe that doing things the right way helps to make you a success in life. That was a recurring theme for me all the way back to my days in junior high ball playing for Tommy Armstrong in Carterville and continuing on to my college days playing for Itchy Jones at SIU.”

Halstead said such attention to detail makes a difference.
“If you look at how many kids we had here move on to a four-year school and succeed, I think you will agree that our kids were well prepared to make the transition to the next level a smooth one.”

Southwestern Illinois College head coach Neil Fiala said he and Halstead have enjoyed a friendship for years.

“Jerry has had some very good teams throughout his entire tenure as head coach at Logan. A lot of guys got a chance to move on to the pros or a four-year college because of him. What I liked about our rivalry was that it was friendly. We both played hard, but whoever won the game, won. He’s one of those you wish were still coaching. It’s sad to see him go.”

Longtime Olney head coach Dennis Conley also offered praise for his counterpart.

“Jerry set the standard for success in our conference and region for years,” he said. “Not only did he coach good ballclubs, but his kids played the game the right way. He’s a first-class individual. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Veteran umpire Kevin Hall, who now schedules umpires for the GRAC, said the league won’t be the same without Halstead around.

“I’m still shocked that he’s leaving to tell you the truth,” Hall said. “You aren’t going to find a classier guy. The kids on his team were always most respectful of the umpires. And I can tell you that all the umpires had great respect for Jerry and his teams over the years. Anytime there was a problem, I could always count on Jerry taking care of that problem right away. And if he came on the field to argue a call, there’s a pretty good chance one of us blew the call, because he didn’t make a habit of coming out of the dugout to argue.”

Halstead is a native of Carterville. He graduated high school there in 1977 and attended both JALC and SIUC, where he graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. While at SIU, he pitched for the Salukis for three years, helping the Dawgs win Missouri Valley Conference championships and participating in the NCAA Tournament.

The obvious highlights for Halstead as a coach, he said, were coaching sons, Aaron and Jason; qualifying for the JUCO World Series for the first time in 1992, where the Vols placed third overall; and then making a second trip in 2002 with Jason, a contributing member of the team.

There is also the gratification of watching five former Vols under his watch make it to the Majors.

Pitchers Tommy Kramer, John Ambrose, and Jason Boyd all made it as did middle infielders Jamey Carroll, and most recently, Dean Anna.

And then there was one other special moment in 1989.

“I had the privilege of coaching ‘Team Logan,’ a collection of former Logan players competing with four-year schools, as well as current Logan players, at a tournament in Pueblo, Mexico, which included teams from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico.  We only went 1-3 and lost one of those games to Cuba on a ninth-inning home run. But what a great experience. Let me tell you, when they played our National Anthem on foreign soil, chills went down my spine,” Halstead said.

When it comes to disappointments, there have been a few. Halstead said the 1993 team was special and, he thought, should have qualified for Nationals.

“We lost to a very good Triton team that year. Another tough loss came in 2006 in the District finals against South Suburban. We had the lead with two outs, nobody on base, and had one foot on the plane,” Halstead joked, although it was not funny at the time. “We just couldn’t close it out.”

This past spring’s loss to Lake Land in the quarterfinals of the Region 24 tournament stung a little, too, as the Vols had won the GRAC championship rather convincingly and had lost only nine games all season.

Still, through it all, Halstead maintains a level head.

“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

Halstead said the program is in much better shape today than it was 33 years ago when he took over the head coaching reins from Bert Newman.

Assistant coach Kyle Surprenant will now begin his journey.

“He’s made my decision to retire much easier,” Halstead said. “Soup is a hard worker and has been my full-time assistant for the last three years and was a volunteer assistant before that while he finished graduate school at SIU. I have been impressed with the way he goes about his business. He played professionally and formerly played at the JUCO level, which is helpful. I’m not worried about this program taking a nosedive.”

Surprenant, who also advises, is grateful for the opportunity.

“It has been a pleasure to work for Coach Halstead. It is easy to see why he has had the amount of success he has. I’ve been very fortunate to work with him over the last six years. I have learned a lot from him. It (working relationship) has allowed me to grow as a coach.”

While coaching baseball has been a passion, Halstead did add to his workload in 2001 when he replaced John Sala as the college’s athletic director.

“John was kind of grooming me for the role,” he said. “At first, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to have the job and continue to coach baseball, but because Jason was going into his sophomore year here at Logan, I asked if I could have one more year so that I could coach him. Thank goodness, I was allowed to do both.

“Later that fall, 911 happened and there were some budget cuts, so I guess having a guy working two jobs wasn’t too big a deal after all. I was never forced to make a decision.”

Halstead said he worked hard to disprove the notion that he couldn’t do both jobs well, or that he would favor baseball over the other sports.

“I was cognizant of everyone’s needs and fought to make things work out. I think my record speaks for itself. One of my proudest accomplishments is winning the GRAC All-Sports Trophy seven times in my 15 years as A.D. No…I don’t think I would change a thing.”

Halstead added that his administrative and coaching duties were made easier by two women in his life – his wife of 34 years, Kathy, and his administrative assistant, Tracy Elliott. Fittingly, Elliott will also be retiring on Aug. 31.

“Kathy grew up as the daughter of a football coach who had recruits over to the house all the time, so she knew what she was marrying into. She has been a key factor in any success I have had. And Tracy took care of all the paperwork for me, which made my job so much easier, especially on game days. I can’t thank her enough for that.”

Asked if he would entertain the idea of coaching again someday, Halstead hesitated.

“I never say never. But it’s not in my plans right now. I’m going to do some things that I really haven’t been able to do for more than 30 years. I’m going to golf more, fish and hunt, watch some SIU baseball games, and go to Spring Training to watch the Cardinals.  I also have five young grandchildren, so I will be able to spend plenty of time with them, too.”