CHICKASHA – Sometimes the impact one man can make on the lives he touches is immeasurable.
That is certainly true for long-time USAO baseball coach L.J. Powell, who retired from coaching in 2009. Powell was named to the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame this month. He previously was named to the Oklahoma Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
“In my opinion, Coach Powell has a long-lasting legacy — one every baseball coach strives for — to be able to run a program that is disciplined, successful,” said Mike Ross, current USAO head baseball coach, who coached under Powell before taking over the program.
Having been a member of the Oklahoma Coaches Association for nearly 60 years, Powell knows what kind of an honor this is.
“It’s very unbelievable to think your peers think enough of you to put you in that situation,” Powell said. “It means I had a great number of young people who performed well for us and have been surrounded by a group of assistant coaches … it’s an honor to me but I attribute more of it to those people than I do myself.”
Powell began his coaching career at Anadarko High School in 1954, where he spent three years. He then coached one season a Frederick High School before finding his place at Chickasha High School, where he coached 38 years before retiring in 1996. There, he also spent seven years coaching softball and served as the dean of students for a time.
After taking a year off of coaching to scout for the San Diego Padres organization, he took over the Drover baseball program, which was still in its early stages of its rebirth. Powell coached the Drovers for 12 seasons.
Ross said Powell is more than deserving of the Hall of Fame honor because of how he approached every aspect of the game.
“Just his service to game of baseball, especially in Oklahoma, in everything he’s done, not only for each individual school but for the student athletes he’s been around and influenced,” Ross said. “He’s just successful in everything he does and has a way of getting people to understand what they need to do.”
While Powell has success on the field, it’s his accomplishments off the field — to his students, athletes and assistants — that he most treasures.
Powell recalls once seeing a saying on a colleague’s desk that read ‘I am third.’ After some time pondering the saying, Powell just had to ask what it meant.
“And he said, ‘God is first. Others second. I am third.’ That’s how I’ve tried to live my life,” Powell added. “There are a couple of words that mean a lot to me, and that’s ‘dad’ and ‘coach.’ Very few of my former players don’t still call me coach.”
John Swineford, who played for Powell when he first started coaching at CHS, recalls the type of coach Powell was and how he affected the lives of his student athletes.
“It was a joy. You knew where you stood,” Swineford said. “You also knew if you were having problems with something, he would help you get out of it and he knew what he was talking about. It was all constructive. I have a great deal of respect for Coach Powell.”
Swineford described how Powell’s goal was to first consider ‘what can I do for my players to make them better.’ He was a players’ coach. He was the type of coach who would sit out his best players if they had gotten into trouble.
After playing for Powell at CHS, Swineford graduated from USAO in December of 1972, when the university was still named the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts. He then took some classes in the spring of 1973 just to play for the Drovers’ first baseball team. Swineford’s father, Derald Swineford, was the head of the art department at the university for years.
Powell said he always approached the game as a team, not as individual coaches and players.
“I don't feel like I ever had anyone working for me. I feel like we worked together, played together, cried together, had fun together,” Powell said.
One moment in Powell’s life that was particularly striking to him was two years ago, at a CHS reunion. Jimmy Smith, Sr., a CHS alumus who had never played for Powell, pulled him aside and explained how he had tried to quit high school, but Powell, acting as dean of students, wouldn’t let him.
Smith had gone on to earn two degrees from USAO, serve as a police officer in Las Vegas and was working in the anti-fraud unit with the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Crediting Powell for his success, he presented him with a collage of his accomplishments and a personal note thanking him. It is something Powell treasures to this day.
“I’m just thinking of all the kids. I bet you can’t find one half of one percent of all the kids who played for Powell who have anything bad to say about him,” Swineford said. “I just remember Coach Powell as being the epitome of a great guy, a great coach.”
Powell certainly has a legacy as a coach and mentor in baseball and life.
“He’s taught me so many things — not just about baseball, but life in general and how to do things. I am honored to be his successor. His era of coaching is one I can’t even fathom being able to match,” Ross said. “USAO was fortunate enough to have one of the best baseball coaches in the state of Oklahoma to coach for them for 13 years.”