For the second time in a month, the North Suncoast’s prep softball fraternity shrunk.
Pasco County’s all-time wins leader, River Ridge’s Ernie Beck, officially called it quits following April 29’s Class 5A, Region II semifinal loss to Hernando at Brooksville’s Tom Varn Park.
Beck guided the Royal Knights for two decades compiling a splendid 426-129 (.768) slate. His body of work featured seven district titles, eight district runner-up trophies and three Final Four appearances.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hernando County’s winningest-ever mentor, Brooksville’s Ernie Chatman, officially announced he had wrapped up a 42-year coaching career – by simply resigning following his two-year stint at Nature Coast Technical.
Like the veteran Beck, the 64-year-old Chatman sparkled on the diamonds leading his teams to 240 wins across 319 tilts (.752).
Across 11 seasons, Chatman’s players at Hernando (1997-2002), Hernando Christian Academy (2009-11) and NCT had attained the coveted regional playoffs eight times collecting six district championships, two runner-up trophies, four regional titles and four appearances in the Final Four.
Across 25 seasons, no other Hernando County fast-pitch skipper has ever amassed that type of success.
Neither Chatman nor his longtime assistant Jugg Olmstead will be back after steering the Lady Sharks to their best-ever campaign in 10 years at 22-5 with a regional quarterfinal berth.
Despite Chatman’s departure, he leaves the program not with the cupboards bare; just the opposite.
The Brooksville nine returns its entire roster (minus senior Brooke Majors, who was injured and missed the final three weeks of the season) in 2015.
After conversing with NCT athletic director Kristin Peeples, the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Famer said of his decision, “It’s just time. A wise coach once told me you’ll know when it’s time to hang ’em up. I feel like it’s time.”
“When you’re coaching individuals I’ll miss watching players’ levels improve,” detailed Chatman of what he’ll miss most as head coach. “As players get better, they start feeling good about themselves.”
On the current state of the Lady Sharks’ program, he said, “As a coach, you always want to leave a program better than what you inherited. Every starter who ended the season is expected back and we’ve got some good JV kids – so the program is in really good shape.
“As you get older you learn quickly that you can’t do it by yourself. I’m going to miss coaching with Jugg,” added Chatman. “We’ve been together for two different stints at Hernando and Nature Coast. I value his opinions and his friendship. I trust him 100 percent.”
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“I think both of us helped get stronger softball in the area,” declared Coach Beck. “He set a precedent when he took over and his kids stepped up a lot – the same with my kids.”
Attempting to shed light on why two of the area’s most prominent softball coaches resigned within a few weeks of each other, “Times have changed. Social media has changed things,” admitted Beck. “I never got involved in trash talking; it’s (social media) something I don’t get involved in and really discourage our kids from doing.
“I came from an era that the only trash talking we did was beating people on the scoreboard,” he added. “In my day, as a player, you just shut your mouth and played ball.”
On pointing toward a future sans Chatman in the opposing dugout, “I love big games against good coaches,” pointed out Beck. “I’d rather beat someone 2-1 or 3-2 versus a great coach like Chatman or (Mitchell’s Scott) Bisbe any day than pounding someone 19-0. Winning close, competitive games against good coaches is what this is all about.”
Chatman’s departure was felt by Central’s seventh-year mentor Tyson Ellis, who graduated from HHS in 1994. Chatman served as his baseball coach during his junior year.
“He’s been a staple of Hernando County athletics in baseball, cross country, basketball and softball for years and years,” described Ellis. “I have tremendous respect for Coach Chatman. It’s sad to see him go. It’ll be weird not seeing him in the other dugout.”
On Chatman’s retirement, “Nature Coast just lost two very good coaches in Coach Olmstead and Coach Chatman,” noted Ellis. “That’s a big hit. I hate to see Coach Chatman go. I enjoyed coaching against him. Coach Chatman is leaving the program in a lot better situation than most programs. It’ll be interesting to see who interviews and who gets that job.”
“Coach Chatman is a guy who loved the game of softball,” declared Springstead’s 12th- year skipper Craig Swartout. “It’ll be tough for Nature Coast to replace him. He loves the game and loves teaching the game.
“If he’s retiring because he’s climbed every mountain he’s ever wanted to, I wish him the best,” said Swartout, who is the county’s most tenured softball skipper at 180-117 lifetime. “If he’s leaving because of all the periphery things that coaches have to deal with these days, it’s a travesty that a good coach isn’t coaching.”
Swartout heaped praise on Chatman’s efforts.
“In coaching against him, he was always a gentleman in dealing with me,” described Swartout. “He treated opposing coaches, players with a great deal of respect. The biggest thing was he treated the game with respect.”
“With Chatman stepping down, that’s a huge loss for Nature Coast,” pointed out Hernando’s ninth-year mentor Kevin Bittinger. “For all the experience that he and Coach Olmstead brought to the table, if their kids didn’t absorb that knowledge – they’re going to regret it.
“It was fun to coach against a guy like that,” added Bittinger, who is 13-8 lifetime against NCT including a stout 5-1 slate versus Chatman. “You had to find your best to beat him.”
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Ernie and his wife Linda will be celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary in November.
“I couldn’t have found a better coaching wife,” noted Chatman.
The Chatman’s eldest daughter, Erin, was expected to deliver her third child this week.
“My sixth grandchild is on the way. I have some more coaching assignments coming up,” said Coach Chatman. “That’ll be fun.”
Chatman, an avid runner, stays active running at least a mile without stopping every day.
That remarkable endurance streak – spanning over 8,330 days – will reach its 23rd anniversary on July 23.
The Brooksville-based distance guru has already competed in a marathon in all 50 states. Chatman’s next goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states under four hours.
“Right now, that’s a huge challenge,” said Chatman. “My body’s not the same. Even though I’m not a head coach anymore, it’s not like I’m going home and doing nothing or just sleeping all day.”
On his short-term schedule, Chatman will be the next governing president of the FACA. On June 11 in Daytona Beach, his one-year term is expected to begin.
With the curtains coming down on an illustrious career, Chatman reminisced about some of his fellow coaching brethren.
“I was fortunate to have been able to compete against great coaches like (Greg) O’Connell, (Larry) Beets, (Mike) Boza, (Tim) Byrne, (Dan) Epstein, (Willie) Broner and Craig (Milburn),” said Chatman. “These were all outstanding coaches that made playing the games fun.”
Many fans believe Chatman’s ultimate legacy spans further than the softball diamond.
Besides his 1997 cross country state championship at HHS, Chatman’s Leopard teams hold school records for most victories in baseball (1982 and 1993), softball (2000) and boys basketball (1985), to go along with guiding HCA (2011) and NCT (2014) softball to their best-ever seasons.
The 1967 HHS graduate and Leopard Hall of Famer believes he was destined for the coaching ranks.
He missed by one number of not getting drafted into the military in 1969. He saw that as a sign from above, and went into coaching after graduating from St. Leo University.
“God couldn’t have given me a better career path than coaching,” admitted Chatman. “I’ve always enjoyed coaching. After not getting drafted and going to Laos I felt like I was put on this Earth to be a coach. I really believe that. St Leo really made it happen for me many years ago.”
On Chatman’s softball legacy, “Hopefully, I’ve improved the programs I’ve been a part of,” he offered. “Along the way I hope I’ve helped some players gain success in the game of softball.”
By the numbers: Ernie Chatman in softball
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR SCHOOL W L .PCT COUNTY DIST REG STATE
1997 Hernando 17 14 .548 4-0 1-1^ 1-1
1998 Hernando 21 10 .677 1-1 2-0# 0-1
1999 Hernando 26 06 .813 2-1 2-0# 1-1
2000 Hernando 27 04 .871 3-1 2-0# 3-0% 1-1$
2001 Hernando 30* 04 .882 3-1 2-0# 3-0% 0-1$
2002 Hernando 15 10 .600 1-3 0-1
2009 HCA 22 06 .786 - 1-0# 3-0% 0-1$
2010 HCA 21 05 .808 - 2-0# 2-0% 0-1$
2011 HCA 25* 02 .926* - 1-1 0-1
2013 NCT 14 13 .519 3-4 1-1 -
2014 NCT 22* 05 .815* 7-1 2-1^ 0-1
–11– –3– 240 79 .752 24-12 16-5 13-5 1-4
* Denotes school record.
^ Denotes district runner-up.
# Denotes district champion.
% Denotes region champion.
$ Denotes Final Four.