The only coach the Gilbert softball team has had, Reuben Eargle has decided to call it quits at the end of the season.
“I’m retiring from teaching, and I just think it’s time for me to give coaching up as well,” said Eargle, the Indians’ coach since 1991.
“Oh, I’ll still come out to watch games, and I’ll probably even drive the team bus if they ask me. I just won’t be doing the day-to-day things a coach has to do, and I’m OK with that.”
Eargle has a 371-149-1 record entering the Class 3A state playoffs on Friday night. The Indians have made the state playoffs 22 times in 24 seasons, claiming eight district championships and earning state runner-up honors in Class 2A in 1994.
“From our humble beginnings, I never imagined that we’d have this kind of success,” Eargle said.
Eargle was a football and baseball player at Newberry High, and he started his coaching career as a football assistant at Lexington. He moved to Gilbert as a football assistant in 1990 and was tabbed by football coach/athletics director Marty Woolbright to run the new softball show at the school.
“When asked, I said, ‘Why not?,’ ” Eargle said. “But I really wasn’t sure how to coach the game. It’s like baseball, but not like baseball.”
Eargle’s first call for help went to Lexington softball coach Scott Jumper.
“I knew Scott from my days at Lexington, and he was generous with his time,” he said. “He told me how to practice, what kind of drills to start with and what kind of conditioning the players would need. I would have been lost without his advice.”
Eargle had his first meeting with prospective players a week before the start of practice. Their new softball field was not ready. None of the players had played the fast-pitch version of softball, and the only equipment they had was one bat, dubbed “Lady Thumper,” and six batting helmets.
Despite the challenges, Gilbert finished 8-6 in the inaugural season and made the state playoffs for the first time in 1992 with a 24-6 team.
Since 2011, the Indians are 89-27 with three consecutive district playoff titles.
“We’ve come a long way since those early days,” said Eargle. “The game has changed dramatically because the pitching is so much better. Most of the top players play travel ball, and that has made a significant impact on the high school game.”
The school and a number of his original players paid tribute to Eargle in a pregame ceremony last week. He was presented with a program artifact – the long-lost “Lady Thumper” bat, autographed and encased.
“That brought me to tears,” Eargle said.