CHICKASHA – Just as he had done hundreds of times before, L.J. Powell’s most recent and life-changing decision was made with the best interests of others in mind.
Powell, who had been the head baseball coach at the University of Science and Arts for the past 12 years, announced his retirement last week following the winningest season in school history.
He came to the decision to leave the dugout not because he was done with the game, or the players, or USAO. Powell decided to retire because of his relationship with former assistant coach Mike Ross, who was named the new head coach Tuesday.
“I don’t think that I’ll ever be ready to fully retire,” Powell said. “But I have a young man who is professionally and academically ready to accept this responsibility. And I just wanted to make sure that he got the job. I’m totally happy for him and know he’s ready and will continue to do things in the right way.”
Powell’s plans for retirement aren’t too different from what his plans have been for years, and for USAO that means he will continue to help build a solid baseball program.
“Oh, I’ll be around,” he said. “I’ll be around for whatever Mike’s needs are. We’re going to continue to work on improving the field by adding lights and a security fence that will allow us to collect gate and try to host some other things that will improve the facility and get some more people on campus.”
The work continues at Bill Smith Ballpark and attendance grew this season after Powell led the Drovers to a school-best 37-14 record. While the Oklahoma Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer already has a state championship, a Red River Athletic Conference Division Title and a NAIA Regional title game appearance, Powell’s 2009 club may be the most historically significant with its assault on the USAO record book.
Powell’s Drovers set 23 records in all and had the school’s only First Team All-Sooner Athletic Conference Player. But he said the successes of the players beyond the field of play were always what mattered most to him.
“The important things to me were the success that these young men had after baseball and the young ladies after softball,” Powell said. “It’s the relationships that we’ve developed over the years and the success of these young people as they’ve gone on down the road of life.
Powell’s final season was bittersweet as the team posted a remarkable amount of numbers, records and wins but was snubbed for the regional tournament after rainy conditions caused the cancellation of the conference tournament. Despite the ending, Powell kept his perspective in his usual and familiar fashion.
“It was a tremendous disappointment, and you look back and say ‘what if,’” he said about not having a chance to play into the regional. “It’s a bummer, but it’s like the game of baseball. It’s a game of inches, and we missed by one or two spots. You got to try to make something positive out of it and get better for next year.
“I’m the toughest loser that there ever was, but I look at the success that these players have, the graduation rate that the baseball team has, and that is just as important as the number of wins and losses. Those type of people that continue their education after baseball is over and get their degree is the number one priority for me.”
Powell finishes his head coaching career as USAO’s winningest baseball coach with 266 wins.