John Eckenroth reluctantly made his way through the dugout, onto the softball field and stood behind home plate facing the bleachers.
His humility was apparent as he kept his eyes focused on the ground while Rick Evans praised the former Riverside Middle School softball coach.
"John Eckenroth, or Coach E, as we like to call him, would never admit how valuable he has been to this softball team and the young ladies that played for him," Evans said. "That's why we have to do it for him."
Evans' daughter Ansley played under Coach E, as did Ed Lake's daughter Jaime. Both men dedicated a stone plaque in the shape of home plate to Eckenroth before Riverside's recent game with Columbia Middle School.
The plaque read, "In honor of Coach John Eckenroth, RMS Girls Softball."
"Coach Eckenroth has always put the welfare of his girls before anything else," Lake said. "He always made sure everyone got to play in every game, no matter how it turned out. He believes in team effort and that was a great lesson for his players."
Ed Lake (left) and Rick Evans (right) headed a group who
honored Riverside Middle School softball coach John Eckenroth with a granite marker for his years of service.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Although he still teaches at Riverside in Columbia County's only class designed for middle-school-level orthopedically impaired children, Eckenroth retired from coaching softball last year, citing health reasons.
To ask him, Eckenroth, 58, would say he never really coached them in the first place.
"They're the one that did all the work," he said. "They're the ones who won softball games. I just kind of stayed in the background and encouraged them."
In eight years as softball coach, Eckenroth's teams never had a losing season. But that mattered less to him than their scholastic achievements.
"Nearly all of my players were on the honor roll," he said. "All the girls I've coached that made it through high school went on to college. That's what makes me proud.
"I've always told them their priorities should be home, church, school and then softball," he said.
In his 30 years as an educator, Eckenroth, 58, has been principal of Harlem High and Middle schools, and coached softball, baseball and football.
His inspirational attitude rubbed off on his players and his own family. Eckenroth's oldest daughter, Jennifer Guy, coaches softball as Harlem High School. His youngest daughter, Alicia Stephenson, teaches sixth-grade math and social studies at Riverside with her father.
"It's wonderful to come to work every day and see how much the children love him," Stephenson said. "He cares about them so much. His dedication is what inspired me to want to be like him."
Eckenroth's plaque was placed in the ground, directly behind home plate, behind the fence, for all to see.
If that didn't embarrass him enough, the fanfare at the dedication ceremony certainly did.
When the dedication was over and the game was about to begin, Eckenroth turned to the home plate umpire, in his typical humble fashion, and said, "Sorry to hold you up."
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