Devyn Gordon grew up watching dominant Croswell-Lexington softball teams.
She looked on in awe as players like Kylee Barrett and Megan Guitar – who both went on to star at Wayne State University – led the Pioneers to the Division 2 Semifinals in 2014.
So when Bob Young, the coach who was at the helm during that stretch, announced he was coming back to take over the Cros-Lex program for Gordon’s senior year, she was delighted.
“I was actually very excited, because I always grew up kind of idolizing him and his players – they had always been so successful,” said Gordon, who plays third base for the Pioneers. “For him coming back for our senior year, it kind of brightened us up. We were all very excited.”
Young is back in charge at Cros-Lex after a brief three-year retirement. He originally left, in large part, to spend more time watching his grandchildren play their baseball and softball games. When the job was set to be filled for the third time since he retired, however, he decided to come back.
“I thought I could help the program, help the system, that’s why I came back,” Young said. “(Retirement) was good. I have three grandkids in their 20s now, but the little ones, I have eight grandkids that are 11 years old or younger, and six of them live here in the Croswell area and are all playing ball. I wanted to be able to attend functions and not be strapped in with practices and games. It made sense to me to leave at that time.”
Young coached the Pioneers for nine seasons during his first stint, leading the program from 2007-2015. Over his final six seasons, Cros-Lex won five District championships, advanced to three Regional finals, and qualified for one MHSAA Semifinal. He also helped his sons, Andy and Scott Young, as they coached Cros-Lex to the 2011 Junior League World Series title.
“I definitely think (Cros-Lex) was a staple for softball in Michigan for high schools,” Cros-Lex senior first basemen Lena Stillson said. “They worked so hard, and they definitely benefitted from it. You would think of Cros-Lex, and softball came to mind immediately.”
Stillson and her teammates want to get back to that, and this season has been a good start. The Pioneers are 19-6 and confident as they close in on the postseason.
“We’ve had a pretty good season so far, and we’ve improved so much,” Cros-Lex senior catcher Haley Matthews said. “With every game, we’re learning more and improving more.”
The players agreed it was Young’s knowledge that played a big part in that, but his message has been a simple one.
“I definitely think he’s brought more confidence, and taught us that it’s all about fundamentals,” Stillson said. “If you don’t have fundamentals, you’re not going to grow. He definitely forces us to get better and think about the game itself.”
A staple of Young’s previous teams – outside of an all-state pitcher in Guitar – was great defense, and their ability to get players on base and put pressure on defenses. He’s working toward that now.
“We’ve won a lot of close games,” Young said. “We hit the ball OK, and our pitching is pretty accurate, but we don’t have a lot of speed. I’d like to bunt a lot more, so we work on bunting quite a bit.
“We’ve been learning, and we keep learning in every practice. They’ve surprised me, I think. We’re doing better than I thought we would. We’re, by no means, an elite team. But we’re doing OK.”
Young said the team bought into his coaching immediately, even though he had never coached any of them at anything other than a clinic.
“I knew a lot of these girls, I just didn’t have them in high school,” he said. “I think they all pretty much know that I know what I’m talking about. I think that’s a credit to them. Every one of them has been so open-minded and ready to learn and do as I asked them to do. They’ve been terrific. We haven’t had any issues at all, and that makes a difference. I ask them to do something, and they put their best foot forward and do the best they can.”
It’s Young’s past success that created that instant credibility, the players said, and he’s done a lot to prove their confidence in him was warranted. Now they’re confident they can compete for something they haven’t won since he left – a district title.
“Having a winning record coming off the past couple years, it’s definitely been a confidence boost for us,” Gordon said. “We know that our record shows that we’re pretty good. I think we’re using that confidence every time we go to the plate, step into the pitcher’s circle or onto the field.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Croswell-Lexington softball coach Bob Young talks things over with two of his hitters during an early-spring game. (Middle) Young works with a possible future player at a community clinic. (Photos courtesy of the Croswell-Lexington softball program.)
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023