Veteran baseball coach Barry Hall of East Surry loves it when people refer to his team as “old-school.”
For Hall, who reached a baseball milestone with his 700th career win last week, it’s the best compliment you could give his team.
Hall, in his 39th year at the helm with the Cardinals, is second all-time in North Carolina behind Greenville Rose’s Ron Vincent, and has the most baseball victories ever by a NCHSAA baseball coach at one school.
“We’re just an old-type baseball team,” Hall said. “Coaches now just smile when we bunt. We play small ball. They know it’s coming, and they still can’t keep us from doing it. We are fundamentally sound. That’s something we are proud of. Kids coming in from JV, from the eighth grade, they know what to expect from us. Some young men can take it, some can’t. The ones that stay, enjoy every minute of it, and the ones that don’t probably wouldn’t fit in anyway.”
The longtime coach has been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to him since he earned win No. 700 in a 4-2 win recently against Walkertown.
Hall pointed to a couple of things as key to his success over the years.
“I’ve had some great assistant coaches during that period. Jim Morgan, Harry Downs, Garvine Collins, Jerry and Chad Freeman, Mike Kiser, David Johnson with the JV team,” Hall said. “We haven’t had a lot of turnover. That’s been a real big part of why we’ve been successful.”
Judging by the records over the years, it’s hard to argue with the results.
The Cardinals are 24-0 this season behind great pitching, a solid defense that doesn’t commit many errors, and of course, “small ball.”
Hall demands excellence from his players. When anyone slacks off, they can expect an earful — although Hall admits he’s toned it down over the years.
“When I first started my wife said, ‘You are too hard on those boys,’” Hall said. “I’ve mellowed a lot. I’m a little more mild-mannered. I don’t go out there and rip them like I used to. I still get the point across, but in a lower voice. You’ve got to remember they are young men, and they make mistakes.”
Coach Chad Freeman, in his 14th season as an assistant under Hall, has noticed the difference also.
“I’ve seen a tremendous difference in him and his approach with the kids. He is a lot more laid back,” Freeman said. “It doesn’t mean he doesn’t expect kids to hustle, and make routine plays, but the way he approaches kids is a lot more laid back. He’s a little more mild-mannered now.
Still, when Hall asks for time and makes a visit to the mound to talk to a pitcher, it can be a little intimidating.
“When he needs to get the kids’ attention, he does,” Freeman said. “It’s always a slow walk out, he gets the point across pretty quickly and emphatically, then a nice little trot coming back.”
The Cardinals haven’t needed much extra motivation from the head coach this season with an unprecedented run of 23 straight wins. Going back to last season, East has won 43 of its last 45 games.
Hall has coached more than 1,000 high school baseball games in his career — a stretch that has spanned more than a generation of players, including a number of father-son combinations.
Sophomore Blake Marion’s dad Randy played for coach Hall, as well as current players Logan Sheets (Randy) and Madison Chilton (Chad). Hall has won a ton of conference baseball titles during his career.
Hall said his baseball philosophy hasn’t changed, but he has picked up on a couple of things over the years.
“Stick to what you believe no matter what,” he said. “That, and adjusting to the young men now say compared to 20-30 years ago. Sometimes the work ethic is not as good. They have more things to do now. You’ll see two people side by side sending text messages to each other.”
Hall shared two memorable moments during his career — both coming in the Cardinals’ state championship appearances. The first time East made it to the state finals was 1982. East lost a close series 2-1 to East Bladen. Twenty-five years later, the Cards returned to the championship game in 2007, falling in another tight series, 2-1 at Five County Stadium against Princeton.
Hall said one of the toughest losses came in the 1986 Western regional finals. East, led by Chris Smith and Chris Chilton, who both went on to play at App State, had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh and lost 5-4.
The other came in last year’s state playoffs against eventual state champion South Stanly.
“Our pitchers struck out 20, walked one, and allowed four or five hits. We made no errors,” Hall said. “We played as good as you can play and lost in extra innings.”
The Rebel Bulls have won three straight 1A state baseball titles. South Stanly coach Terry Tucker called Hall after his 700th win to congratulate him. Freeman noted that Tucker said the Cards were the best team the Rebel Bulls faced during the championship run.
A number of other area coaches were more than happy to congratulate Hall, including Reagan head coach Gary Nail, who coached South Stokes to three straight 1A titles in the early 2000s.
“I started my career at North Stokes, and we were in the same conference. He wore us out,” Nail said. “His teams were always well-coached. I was young, and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew a well-coached team when I saw one. I started paying attention. I learned a ton of baseball from Barry Hall. A lot of stuff I do comes from him, by watching his teams, what they do, what he teaches them. I try to emulate that in my own way.”
The Sauras were a baseball powerhouse with standout players including Dustin Ackley, now playing in the majors with the Seattle Mariners. Nail recalled a number of battles between South Stokes and East Surry, including a year when the two teams played four times. The last game was a classic deep in the state playoffs that ended up with East claiming a 3-2 win.
Nail said he always enjoyed playing against Hall, and he was excited to hear about the milestone.
“Seven hundred wins, that’s incredible,” Nail said. “To be coaching as many years as he has, that in itself is amazing to me. With all the things that go on now with athletics and kids and parents, 700 wins is just phenomenal. It’s something I can’t fathom. It tells you how good a coach he is and what great players he’s had.”
West Stokes head baseball coach Kirk Goodson said he was thrilled when he heard Hall hit No. 700.
“He’s like an icon in that community,” Goodson said. “It’s a huge accomplishment that he’s coached this many years at one place. Everyone always seems to look for bigger and better, but he’s built that program, and established a winning tradition. The kids believe in him and the community believes in him.
“It’s a magnificent feat. It also shows the love he has for the game of baseball.”
Kirk Goodson said he has learned a lot of baseball from Hall as well.
“He was kind enough to share his baseball knowledge over the years. I’d been coaching high school for five years in Virginia, and it was my second year (at West Stokes),” Goodson said. “I was a fairly young high school coach. I knew he was a successful coach, so I picked his brain. He was gracious enough to sit down and talk baseball. We’ve been friends ever since.”
West Stokes and East Surry have met head-to-head quite a bit through the years as conference and nonconference opponents. The two teams played in the same league for eight years, before the Wildcats moved to the Western Piedmont Conference.
Goodson said it was always a joy to go to home plate and meet with the umpires and coach Hall before a game with East Surry.
“Barry is Barry,” Goodson said. “He’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. At home plate you never know what he’s going to say. He’s just matter of fact.”
Goodson talked a little bit about the Cards’ style of play.
“You know when there’s a man at first, he’s going to bunt them over. You’ve got to execute plays against him. You make errors, he’s going to make you pay for it,” Goodson said. “He’s old school in his baseball, but his kids are kind of old-school, as far as tough kids that play hard.
“Your players are going to take on the personality of their coach. They are going to fight you until the end. Our games with them were always tight games.”
Nail echoed the sentiment.
“We had our battles. They were fundamentally sound. It didn’t matter what kind of record his team had, that’s what you expected when South Stokes and East Surry got together,” Nail said. “I enjoyed playing against him. When we played a Barry Hall team it was competitive and it was intense, but we would talk to each other during the game. It was a rivalry, but a friendly rivalry.”
Baseball coach Jon Cawley of Mount Airy said Hall is a class act.
“(Seven hundred is) one of those numbers that’s really hard to comprehend,” Cawley said. “It’s one of those marks where I consider it an honor to get to compete against him.
“He’s always kind and generous. He’s helped me become a better coach. I’m probably a normal statistic. He’s played me eight times and he’s 7-1. I’m surprised he didn’t get 700 a win earlier.”
Freeman said he enjoyed seeing Hall win his 500th game around the time East’s home field was named after coach Hall, and later his 600th win.
“It’s hard to fathom winning 700 games,” Freeman said. “He’s been at it a long time. He’s been extremely successful. We are all very proud of him. He’s respected throughout the region, and the state.
“It’s amazing to think he’s been able to stay at one place for such an extended period amount of time. That’s a tribute to the community and the kids. It speaks to what he’s been able to get out of the kids as they’ve come through the program.”
Hall said he couldn’t have done it without the support of his wife Rachel, and his late mother and father, who raised him along with his brother Bruce and sister Emily.
Hall, who grew up in Stokes County, doesn’t take the losses quite as hard as he used to.
A big part of that has to do with his three grandkids — including twin granddaughters born earlier this spring.
“Madisyn, she’s five and she’s been to many games. If I lost, all I had to do was go up the hill and we’d ride the Gator,” Hall said. “The twins, they came to their first baseball game at two weeks old.”
Asked if he ever had opportunities to coach elsewhere, Hall said yes, but he never came close to leaving.
“I’ve worked with great principals. I’m very appreciative of all principals, superintendents, and support people in Surry County who have allowed me to do this,” he said. “I retired in 2001 from the classroom, and they let me keep coaching.”
Hall said he plans to coach one more year after this season before handing over the coaching reins to Freeman.
“Chad’s been with me a long time. The program will just continue. I’ve had a good run,” Hall said. “God’s been good to me.”