John Childers, a La Plata High School social studies teacher, has been named 2019-20 Coach of the Year for baseball by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The NFHS honors a Coach of the Year in the top 10 girls sports and 10 boys sports each year.
While the high school baseball season was not played due to safety and health precautions in place to slow the spread COVID-19, Childers credits his team — of coaches, players and their families — for helping him secure the title of Coach of the Year. “I look at it as an award for sustained success, which to me is more meaningful,” Childers said. “It says that not just in one year did your coaches and kids and families get it right — but over a long period of time from our administration, Principal Dolan, [athletic director] Mr. Pauole, my assistant coach Jason Beall … these are people who have been getting it right for a long period of time. And the NFHS is really honoring that with this award.”
“In the past 13 years at La Plata High School, our record is 157-36,” said assistant coach Jason Beall, physical education teacher at William A. Diggs Elementary School. “I think that speaks to how Coach Childers runs our program and how our players buy in and work hard.”
COVID-19 throws a curveball
Spring athletes had about two weeks of practice before schools shut down in March to slow the transmission of COVID-19. Initially, many students were banking on the season being briefly paused — no big deal.
“At first the kids were in shock, but not heartbroken,” Childers said. “I don’t think they could see the magnitude of COVID-19.” But Childers had been following the news, his sister knows someone at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who said it didn’t look promising that schools and life in general were going to quickly snap back to normal. “I didn’t tell the kids. I wanted them to have hope,” Childers said. “It’s just crushing to play with so much talent … a lot of this kids wait until they’re starters, they play a lot in their senior year. It’s just soul crushing to see the seniors [not play].”
With safety and health guidelines in place, CCPS allowed student-athletes in spring sports to condition and work on skills earlier this school year. That included baseball. Despite a few half-hearted gripes from players about the Childers mandate requiring they wear face masks during conditioning, “Anytime you’re out on the baseball field, there’s great weather with a bunch of kids excited to play — it’s a good day,” Childers said.
La Plata’s record under Childers is 157-36 and the Warriors have won the conference the last two years it has been played. “The kids we get here at La Plata are baseball players,” Childers said. “It’s why we’re so good. They grew up playing.”
So did their coach. Raised in College Park, Childers has been playing baseball since he was 6 years old. When he wasn’t playing, he was staying up late, listening to Orioles games on the radio. “It was summer, we didn’t have school the next day. It was all baseball, that’s what it was,” he said.
As he got older, he continued to play and still does, taking part in “old man tournaments” in Florida. When he was 18, Childers began coaching 11-year-olds. Baseball “was a way of life,” and Childers found that he enjoyed coaching. “I was more excited when they were successful than I ever was when I was,” he said. “I played in college, had some good years, wanted to get drafted. Didn’t work out — too small.”
After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City, Childers found himself at a crossroads. He could be a teacher and maybe coach at the high school level, or he could take a job as an assistant baseball coach at Bowie State University. “I was really considering making that my career,” he said of the coaching gig. But the lack of job security was a major factor. College coaches have a job one day and none the next. The bottom line was “I wanted to work with kids, I knew that. I knew if I stayed teaching high school, I’d find a job coaching,” he said.
Childers has spent about 18 years coaching high school baseball, taking a break to coach his son’s little league and travel teams. Over the years, he has help coach La Plata’s cross country, wrestling, golf and soccer teams, as well as organizing a baseball camp through the county’s Recreation and Parks department. His son, Chase, played baseball at La Plata before graduating from Randolph Macon University. His calls wife, Diane, the 2017 Charles County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, the MVP of the family. “You know when someone calls their spouse ‘their better half?’ She definitely is that to me,” Childers said.
Leading by example
Childers earns high marks from his fellow coaches, players and administrators. He builds relationships and has high expectations for all his students — in the classroom and on the field, said La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan. “He leads by example. He also stresses to students to work hard at everything they do,” Dolan said. “The importance of education and family comes before baseball in his teaching in both areas.”
Troy Calvert, a 2011 La Plata graduate who played baseball at the school and helped coach the Warriors in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, was taught to win and lose gracefully. It’s a lesson Childers imparts to his players. “Coach Childers reinforces that lesson to all his players and even coaches,” Calvert said.
Childers said he strives to be an example for his players. If they are told to clean up the field, he joins in. “I’ve really bought into the idea of servant leadership,” he said. “If you listen to your players, and you serve them, they’re going to play really hard for you and they’re going to hopefully pick up those qualities.”
Forging relationships with students is important to Childers.
“You can always tell how a coach like Mr. Childers has influenced his athletes by the fact that many of them come back to visit or catch a game,” said Richard Pauole, La Plata’s athletic director. “Some even come back and join the coaching staff. He’s not just a great baseball coach. His priority in his program is to build strong character and a phenomenal ethic into student athletes.”
Despite being named Coach of the Year, Childers, who is familiar with being part of a team, said he shares the award with the others who work to make La Plata baseball a stellar program. “It’s really not for me,” he said. “I’m really happy they’re recognizing the great stuff that’s going on at La Plata.”