By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Brad Strong had a tough decision to make.
He chose family.
“I want to go watch my boys play,” said Strong, who has been the baseball coach at Richlands for the last 13 years.
Strong resigned from that position on Thursday, with the intention of traveling the three hours on a regular basis to see his sons, Bradley and Reece, play baseball at Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C.
“I have been thinking about it for a long time,” Strong said. “It took me a long time to make that decision and I made it Tuesday.”
Strong acknowledged he could have stayed on, but didn’t want to be telling his team that he had leave to go watch baseball elsewhere.
“I can’t do that to the kids at Richlands..,” Strong said. “Our kids work too hard, I am not going to do that.”
Instead, Strong and his wife, Mary Ann, will venture to North Carolina to watch their sons. Bradley is a sophomore third baseman for the Catamounts, while Reece is an incoming freshman challenging for a position, possibly as a second baseman.
“I know we are going to see them on the weekends, and my wife will probably go see them some on the weekdays,” said Strong, who will continue teaching physical education and health at Richlands High School. “On the weekends we will go together, and she is going to watch them whenever she can. That is her plan,”
No decision has been made on Strong’s successor for the Blue Tornado, but he would like to see his assistants, Adam Davis or John Boyd, get an opportunity.
Davis played baseball at Richlands, while Boyd played at Bluefield College and has been the head baseball coach at Patrick Henry in Glade Spring, Va.
“I think the baseball program has always been heading in the right direction, and those two will do a quality job,” Strong said.
Strong enjoyed plenty of success at Richlands, having led the Blue Tornado to several Southwest District championships, and numerous Region IV tournament appearances.
“I don’t know of any special team or anything like that, they are all special,” Strong said. “What I was pleased with is each week we continued to get better, and we were always in the hunt at the end of the year.
“The kids continued to get better and play better and that is what we wanted them to do. At the end of the year we were in the district hunt, we were always in the regions and the kids continued to get better each week and that is the plan.”
Both of Strong’s sons were standouts in baseball and football at Richlands, and that is expected to continue at Western Carolina.
It already has for Bradley, who was selected to the All-Southern Conference freshman team last year, batting .305 with 24 runs batted in and 27 runs scored for the Catamounts. He followed that up by helping the West Virginia Miners to the Prospect League championship last summer, and has been invited to play this summer in the prestigious Cape Cod wooden bat league.
Reece is an incoming freshman competing for a position with the Catamounts, who open their season by hosting Washington State on Feb. 15.
In addition to his sons, Richlands has produced other college baseball prospects in recent years, including Jordan Barnett, who was a pitcher at Limestone College in South Carolina, and James Patton, who is currently a pitcher at Concord.
“I have no regrets. Our program is a very good program where our kids work hard,” Strong said. “What I am going to miss are those relationships with the players that I have developed in the 30 years I have coached and the coaches that I have come to know and played against and coached against.
“That is probably what I am going to miss the most, the relationships that I have had.”
Strong will still offer his services when he’s not venturing to Cullowhee.
“I still want to be part of it, but that will be up to the new head coach and the administration,” he said. “I still want to be around it when I can.”
—Contact Brian Woodson