When the Poland softball team lost in the Division II state Final Four earlier this month, it lost more than just a chance to defend its state championship from a year ago.
That setback also marked the end of the 23-year head-coaching career of Reid Lamport. Coach Lamport announced before the start of this campaign that he would retire when the season concluded. It may have come as a surprise to the coach and to the Poland community that the season stopped without another state crown, but finishing fourth instead of first surely did not define the career of the 60-year-old Newton Falls native.
"I built a lot of interpersonal relationships with these girls," said Lamport over the weekend. "I had an opportunity to see the girls play the game they loved. That's what I'll take from my coaching career."
Retiring head coach Reid Lamport
Lamport's coaching career actually started in 1974 after a quarterbacking career at Bowling Green State University. He started as a baseball coach and assistant football coach at Montpelier High School in western Ohio then moved on to Pymatuning Valley, Mathews and Warren Western Reserve. After moving to Florida, Lamport returned to the state in 1981 to become head football coach at Jefferson. Lamport lasted five seasons there then left for Poland in 1986. He started with the Bulldogs' football team then took over the softball squad in 1990. Transitioning from coaching boys to mentoring girls was a bit strange at first for Lamport, but once he got used to it, the coach found that chore to be much easier.
"I once thought that girls sports was just something to do," Lamport said chuckling, "but the more I saw how athletic and competitive (girls) are I changed my mind. Girls are much more humble than boys are. Sometimes you have to take boys back a bit, but it's fun trying to motivate the girls to be the best they can be."
It was not very hard to motivate this recent batch of Bulldogs that coach Lamport inherited. This special group made an unprecedented three straight trips to the state Final Four and won a state championship. In fact, if Poland did not capture that 2011 title, they may have been saying bon voyage to coach Lamport a year ago.
"Not many people know this but I thought about retiring last year if we didn't' win (the state championship)," Lamport said honestly. "Once we won, I wanted to come back for the six seniors. I wanted to see things out with those girls. Now I have peace with my decision."
Lamport has peace in a lot of things he does. It takes only a few minutes of conversation with the coach to realize he is a man of great faith and humility. Those traits help him when he is doing motivational speaking in public or acting as pastor at The Church of the Rock in Poland. Lamport also published a book titled, "Unleashing the Power of Encouragement" last year. Although he is retired from teaching, Lamport will still have his church, speaking engagements and book signings to keep him busy as well as a large family made up of his wife Michele, daughters Katie and Jessica and son Reid. There is also an addition to the family coming soon.
"I have a second grandchild coming in about 10 days," said Lamport proudly. "We also bought a camper so we are planning to do some camping. I am looking forward to (full retirement)."
The former head coach also will be looking forward to reconnecting with some of his former players in the future. Both of his daughters played softball at Poland, but every other Lady Bulldog who took the diamond for Lamport was like a daughter to him. Nothing made Lamport feel better than when he saw a softball alumnus come home to root on her school.
"I told these girls that what they do on the field makes future Poland girls want to play softball," Lamport said. "Girls come back now with their kids and I love to see the success they have had as wives, mothers and businesswomen."
The future success of the Lady Bulldogs should be grand too because coach Lamport is not leaving the cupboard empty for his replacement.
"The freshmen and sophomore group that is returning is very special," he insisted. "My assistant coaches and the JV coaches did outstanding jobs with those girls. (Poland's softball program) will be in great hands."
Probably not as great as when Lamport had his hands wrapped around it though. If you take away all the wins he amassed as bench boss, the impact the coach made on Poland is still immeasurable. That is what happens when a man of such complete conviction gets a chance to teach young people.
"People of faith can work any endeavor," Lamport stated. "You hope to bring that faith with you and hope to inspire people along the way."
There is certainly no doubt that Reid Lamport inspired everyone he came in contact with over the past 23 years.