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Decker takes a step up to Harvard; Woodward to be honored Friday

After 22 years and more than 500 wins, Greenfield native Bill Decker is saying goodbye to the Trinity College baseball team.

It was announced earlier this month that Decker was named baseball coach at Division I Harvard University. The announcement came roughly two months after former Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh died of a heart attack on July 31 after 17 seasons with the Crimson.

It makes sense that Harvard would be interested in Decker. It would appear that it’s more than Decker going 529-231 in his 22 seasons at Trinity for a robust .696 winning percentage. But the fact that he was able to do it at a school like Trinity — known more for academics than athletics — seemed to be the deciding factor. In a Harvard press release, athletic director Bob Scalise reiterated that point.

“We are extremely excited to have someone of Bill’s character and background to lead our baseball program,” he began. “We are particularly impressed with Bill’s successes at a well-respected academic institution such as Trinity. Harvard has a lengthy tradition of excellence in baseball and we trust that our program will thrive under Coach Decker.”

During a brief discussion with Decker on Monday evening, he concurred on the point of staying at an academic institution, saying that it was important to him.

“The timing just seemed right for me from a professional standpoint and, for the most part, from a personal standpoint. The kids are a little bit older. It’s Harvard. To be perfectly honest with you. I’m at arguably the top school in the nation. It’s another academic institution. It’s kind of an environment that I’ve tried to stay involved with.”

Decker leaves a gaping hole at Trinity. He ranks among the top 25 active Division III coaches in wins and leaves Trinity with the most overall wins of any head coach in Trinity varsity history.

Decker led the Bantams to nine NCAA Tournament appearances and many will remember that in 2008, with the help of two Greenfield natives, pitcher Jeremiah Bayer and catcher Sean Killeen, Decker won 44 consecutive games to start the season and finished up 45-1 with the NCAA Division III National Championship. The 44-game string is still the longest winning streak in Division III baseball history, and the .978 winning percentage is among the best all-time regardless of sport. The list of coaching awards and team awards that Decker amassed at Trinity is too long for this page to publish, but his 2008 American Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year award would rank among the greatest. On top of that, Decker has seen eight former players move on to sign Major League Baseball contracts the past seven years.

In a Trinity press release, athletic director Michael Renwick said he is supportive of Decker’s decision to move on after 22 years. “I am thrilled for Bill and his family, and am extremely supportive of his decision to pursue this great opportunity at Harvard,” Renwick began. “Bill has been such a catalyst over the years in Trinity’s great athletic tradition, as his teams have finished the top of both the NESCAC and National standings. His leadership of our baseball program will be missed, however, we have a great nucleus of players returning this season and Trinity baseball will remain a strong and cherished program within our stable of sports. I wish Bill and his family all the best and the Trinity family will certainly be following his progress in Cambridge from afar.”

Perhaps the toughest factor of all when deciding whether to leave came in the form of an infielder on the Trinity roster by the name of Kyle Decker, Bill’s son, in his sophomore season at the school. Asked whether his son is leaving Trinity as well, Bill Decker said that “as far as I know, Kyle is a Trinity College baseball player.”

“I’ll tell you this,” he added. “It was arguably one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do, was to resign from the team, and I had to look at him from across the room. It’s a testament to who he is. Things will be fine. Whatever path that Kyle chooses is going to be his path. Obviously he chose Trinity College not only because of our relationship but where we were as a school for student athletes. Right now I think that he should be comfortable in that. But I’m not foolish, me walking away hurt him.”

Decker will have his hands full as he takes over a team that finished 12-30 last season and has gone 61-150 in its past five seasons combined. The last time the Crimson did not have a losing record was in 2007 when it went 18-18 and the team’s last winning season came in 2006 when it went 21-20-1.

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Jim Woodward may not be the head football coach at Mahar Regional School this season for the first time in 30 years, but on Friday his Senators legacy will be cemented. A special halftime ceremony will be held during halftime of the football game Friday night and the Mahar fields will be named the James S. Woodward Athletic Complex.

The decision to name the complex after Woodward came on Jan. 3 when the Mahar Regional School Committee voted in favor of it. That came after Woodward was nominated for the honor by retired Mahar teachers Pauline Bixby and Karen Grzesik, for whom the gymnasium is named.

As for his athletic accomplishments on and off the field, the list is long. Woodward graduated from Tantasqua High School in 1969, having played five years of varsity football, two years of varsity basketball, and five years of varsity track & field. He was the state champion in discus his senior year. Woodward moved on to Springfield College and played three years of varsity football and four years of varsity track & field at the school. He was the college shot put record hold in 1971, ‘72, and ‘73 and was on the All-New England track team those three seasons. Woodward was undefeated in the shot put in 1972-73 regular season and was 10th place in the nation in 1973.

After graduating from Springfield, Woodward began teaching physical education at Mahar and was the assistant football and track coach. He took a one-year hiatus from Mahar while serving as a driver-education teacher at Sanford (Maine) High School as well as defensive coordinator for the school’s football team, but came back to Mahar in 1976 as a physical education teacher. Woodward served as assistant football coach at the school from 1976 until 1981, and became the head football in 1982, a post he held through last season when he retired. He has also coached track since 1976, and became athletic director in 2006.

As a football coach, Woodward made five Super Bowl appearances, winning three, won 10 Intercounty League titles and compiled a 180-131-1 record.

A well-deserved honor for someone that has given much of his life to the students at Mahar.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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