By BRIAN CUNNIFF
WILDWOOD – Rich Hans has just about seen it all in his 21 seasons of coaching the Wildwood High School baseball program.
He’s had a couple 20-win teams, one of which reached a South Jersey Group I title game. He’s also had a winless team.
Through it all, Hans has been there, guiding the Warriors through thick and thin.
On Wednesday, he received a nice reward for his efforts.
A 17-5 victory over a rebuilding Penns Grove club by his Warriors gave Hans the 200th win of his career.
His record sits at 200-295-3, meaning he’s just two games shy of coaching his 500th career game.
Hans took over a program in 2002 that had previously been directed by various head coaches over a short span.
A graduate of Wildwood whose full-time job sees him run the very same recreation facility at which his team plays, Hans knew he was in it for the long haul.
“When I started coaching, we basically built it from the ground up,” he said. “We’ve had some really good years and we’ve had some not-so-good years. Usually at a small school like this, it kind of goes in waves. You get two or three good years, and then you’ll fall off for a few years. It’s a cycle.
“What makes it enjoyable is that you have a good group of kids, which this current team is. When you’re around good kids, it kind of makes you want to stay in the game. And obviously I love baseball, so that helps a lot, too.”
As one of the smallest public high schools in the state, Wildwood sometimes struggles in team sports that require a lot of athletes. But Hans has built the Warriors into a consistently competitive program, even if the won-loss record might not seem to reflect the same in certain seasons.
Very rarely does a Wildwood team feature a year-round baseball player. The program instead mostly relies on two- and three-sport athletes.
“I like that Wildwood kids play three sports,” Hans said. “It makes them competitors. Our basketball team is traditionally good at Wildwood and we kind of go after those kids and the football kids and bring them to the baseball field. If anything, they’re aggressive and they have a lot of heart and they never quit. That’s why I love coaching Wildwood kids.”
Hans was asked when he might step down as leader of the program.
“It’s soon,” he said with a laugh. “But we have some good young kids this year and I’d like to at least see those guys through. Then maybe after that we’ll see what happens. I’d probably take it year by year but I hope I can stay as long as I can. Sometimes you hear coaches talk about leaving and then they’ll stay another 10 years. So who knows?”
In the game, Junior Hans, the nephew of the head coach, was the winning pitcher and also went 2 for 2 with three runs scored and two RBI for Wildwood. Dom Troiano added two hits, two runs scored and an RBI. Joey Mormile posted a hit and two RBI and Josh Vallese and Novian Craig each had a hit and an RBI.
Wildwood improved to 4-3.