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TOM WILLIAMS COLUMN: Andrew Bristol’s year

Andrew Bristol just experienced his first full season as a high school head coach at Ocean City. But he wasn’t a rookie. He has been an assistant for more than 30 seasons of baseball and basketball – despite the fact that he looks like he’s around 35.

As Bristol recalls in this Q & A, the past 12 months were interesting and challenging. And they started with a tragic accident.

What do you remember about that day last July, Andrew?
“Craig Mensinger contacted me and told me something had happened to Matt Fumo. Our initial information was that he had been killed. It was like a punch in the gut. But I called Ed Terry and he contacted some people who got the real story, that he was seriously injured. The next day, Ed, Craig and I went to see him. It was pretty horrendous. A few days later he seemed a little better but a week after that he was a lot better and he just kept improving. Having Matt throw out the first pitch at our home opener in April was one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a coach.”

Then came your first season as a head coach after decades as an assistant. Was it a lot different?
“It sure was. I tell people being an assistant is like being the mother in a family but being the head coach is like being the father. The players would come to me with problems as an assistant but not as much as the head coach. I was OK with that but it was an adjustment.”

And it was a great first season.   
“It was – but it took me a good month to get over that last loss (in NJSIAA Group 3 to Seneca, 4-1, in eight innings). I kept going over the squeeze bunt attempt and whether we could have scored when Parker’s hit dropped in. In the last couple weeks, I realized we did a lot of good things. I’m sure we had a much better season than many people thought we would. I do wish we could have played more games. I think we lost about seven games because of weather and other factors and that is a lot.”

There was also the ongoing evaluation of Dan Nunan.   
“Dan had to deal with that from the very first scrimmage. Angels scouts were there regularly and other teams sent scouts, too. You don’t know what an 18 year old kid is going to do when he has to perform for these guys but he handled it really well. (The Angels drafted Nunan in the 12th round and signed him. He is currently training in Arizona.)
“And the same with Brandon Lashley and A.J. Campbell. They’d have college guys watching games and they didn’t blow up. They were at their best in many of those situations. It just showed the kind of moxie they have.” (Lashley recently committed to Stony Brook, Campbell is considering his options)

You have been an assistant to the two men who have been a head coach more seasons than any coaches in Ocean City High School history – Craig Mensinger with 32 years as baseball coach and John Bruno with a total of 48 between boys basketball and softball. What did you learn from them?  
“I learned how to be a head coach from those two guys. From John I learned how to deal with parents, how to handle the players, how to handle adversity and also how to deal with winning. I also learned how to say calm from John. There are times when fans watching him on the sidelines might question that, but he is very calm in the moment.
“And Craig taught me how to prepare for a game and how to be prepared myself. He also taught me how to remain calm and how to deal with the many responsibilities of a head coach. But, most of all, I learned the right way to treat people with fairness and respect from Craig.”

Then, after that tumultuous baseball season ended, your twin sons – Parker and Peyton – both graduated. You had a chance to be their head coach this spring but they won’t be around every day.
“Yes, Parker leaves on August 10th for West Virginia and Peyton leaves a couple weeks later for James Madison. That was something that I’m starting to look back on – being able to coach my sons – and how special that was. In the moment you don’t recognize that pleasure, you are thinking about too many things. But it was emotional when it ended and there are still emotions when I think back on it.
“And Craig was responsible for that. He just retired as a teacher last month and he could have remained as head coach this final year – he deserved it. But he stepped down after the 2017 season so that I could be the head coach with my two sons during their senior year. That’s just the kind of person Craig is and all of us – my entire family – will always be grateful.
“In fact, one of the best things about this year was being able to see Craig relaxed. I’ve been with him for 20 years and I know now how much responsibility a head coach feels and how much is on his mind. This year he didn’t have that and he had a lot of fun just being around the kids and the sport.”

Now, it’s almost time to get ready to do it again.
“Yeah, and we think we’ll have a pretty good baseball team again. And I’m looking forward to the basketball season, too. We have other baseball players going on to college. Brandyn Pokrass, who will be back next year, is going to Lesley College in Massachusetts. Wyatt Stetzer is going to Mercer County College. And Syd Unsworth will go to Lewis University in Illinois. Others, like Jaden Millstein and Shane Ferry, will also be making that college decision. It’s great to have so many going on to play baseball at the next level.”

Andrew Bristol’s year started with tragedy but it turned out to be a year of great accomplishment, emotion and memories.