Jimmie Lewis has always been a true players' coach.
Just ask Steve Camp, Lewis' brother-in-law who played for the longtime coach while he was still an assistant.
"Back then, he was driving a Cougar, and he used to pick up all of the peewee football players and take them to practice," Camp recalled. "There would be eight or nine kids in that car, but Jimmie loved doing it. He just loved to coach."
He doesn't coach Pee Wee football anymore, but Lewis has done quite well for himself on the baseball diamond.
The legendary coach secured yet another memorable victory Wednesday in a long career of milestones, notching his 600th win as head coach at Harlem in the Bulldogs' 12-2, five-inning victory over Richmond Academy. On hand for the big night was a standing-room-only crowd of Harlem faithful, along with a slew of Lewis' former Bulldogs.
And what would the ultimate players' coach do to celebrate such a feat?
"Me and the coaches and the seniors Friday night are going jug fishing at my lake house," Lewis said. "We're going to go out at dark and stay out 'til 2 (a.m.)."
Steve Beasley, a 1981 Harlem graduate and father of current Bulldog pitching ace Derek Beasley, is well-known among Harlem faithful for his final at-bat as a Bulldog: a game-winning home run that clinched the 1981 state championship for Harlem. He paints a similar picture of Lewis from his first few years as head coach.
"He was more our age at that time, so it was a lot looser. If he said something, the guys might kind of laugh behind his back, but there was always that respect," said Beasley.
Beasley and Camp both recall Lewis pitching to the team in scrimmages and playing right alongside the players at practice.
The 1981 state title was one of five Lewis has accumulated during his 32 years as head coach. The Bulldogs also won the state championship in 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1986 and were the runners-up in 1992 and 1999.
Wednesday's victory was significant because it represents another notch on the belt for Lewis, but it also had playoff ramifications. With the win, the Bulldogs clinched the No. 2 seed and a home series for the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
The 600th victory was a bittersweet one for the Harlem baseball community. Athletic Director and Assistant Coach Lonnie Morris has decided to retire after 29 years at Harlem. With the playoff berth, Morris has not completed his stay.
Though their working relationship will end, the personal relationship between Lewis and Morris will remain strong.
"The one thing that he's always preached, and we've always preached, is we're going to get along," Morris said. "It's always been that way, and we're the best of friends."
"He's a fabulous guy and a great Christian role model for all the players. He's a great role model for me," Lewis said of Morris, who will stay on after this year to both serve as assistant football coach and to help the baseball squad whenever he can. "He maintains the discipline around here. He won't let them slide."
As for Lewis, the idea of retirement has entered his mind.
"The time comes. And it's going to come for me. I'm 57 years old, and I figure I can make it 'til maybe 60," Lewis said. "And then it'll probably be time for me and my wife to go do something we enjoy."
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